BELLMAWR, N.J. (CBS) — The owners of a South Jersey gym have been issued a summons for opening and going against Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home order. Atilis Gym in Bellmawr opened up at 8 a.m. to cheers and a huge crowd after being closed for two months.
Atilis Gym owners cited for re-opening against Governor Phil Murphy’s order say it’ll get thrown out because “it’s unconstitutional”. They plan to open every day and “will accept new clients”. @CBSPhilly pic.twitter.com/cwT931MeBD
— Alecia Reid (@alecia__reid) May 18, 2020
Protesters were here for hours until police finally gave them a warning to disperse.
Although owners were slapped with a citation, they’re still open. Owners Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith knew they were starting a fight when they decided to reopen against Murphy’s order.
They’re not concerned about their disorderly conduct citation.
“Everything we’re doing is constitutional and it’s our rights and we’ve not broken any laws and an executive order isn’t a law anyway,” Trumbetti said. “Even if I was in violation of the executive order, I truly don’t believe I am based on the verbiage he has put in his own executive orders.”
They believe opening is their legal right, so much so that their new lawyer sent a letter to Murphy, calling the lockdown and shelter-in-place “draconian and unconstitutional,” and that there are nonessential stores that have already opened.
“The thing that’s most unconstitutional about this is the lack of equal protection of the law,” Mermigis Law Group lawyer Kevin Barry said.
Anthony Diehl was one of many gym members who lined up to be the first to go inside.
“Anybody that’s paying their bills or taking care of their families is an essential business, so I’m just out here to support his right to operate,” Diehl said.
The gym’s co-owners have instituted a number of safety measures to show that they are taking health and hygiene very seriously. It will only be open to existing members and will operate at 20% capacity. Temperatures will be taken at the door and anyone at 100.4 or above will not be allowed to come inside. People also must wear masks unless they are in the middle of lifting weights.
Bellmawr’s @TheAtilisGym is opening today in defiance of @GovMurphy’s stay-at-home order. Supporters have already started gathering outside & in the parking lot ahead of the 8am opening. On @CBSPhilly @ 6am, why the owners say the gov’s order violates their constitutional rights. pic.twitter.com/Pe9HlmDASf
— Trang Do (@TrangDoCBS3) May 18, 2020
“I don’t have a problem with it at all. Going to the gym is good for your health, it’s good for your mind, it’s good for your body,” said gym member Tony Lukosius.
In a pair of videos posted to Facebook, Trumbetti and Smith explained their decision to defy the governor’s order, saying the forced closure of businesses deemed “nonessential,” implemented to curb the spread of the virus, violates their constitutional rights.
“We are proposing an organized peaceful reopening of our state, not just our business,” said Trumbetti. “We truly believe that if we don’t do this, in the end, we’ll have zero rights and no say in what happens.”
“If big box retailers, grocery and liquor stores can operate with proper health protocol in place, so can every single business in America,” Smith said.
The reopening also attracted dozens of people who are not members of the gym — many not wearing masks or practicing social distancing and waving flags supporting President Donald Trump.
“All jobs are essential, not just mine because I am a health care worker, not the police officers, every job — your nail salons, your hair salons, your gym owners, every job is essential! Everybody should be allowed to work,” said Wanda Tranquillo, of Gibbstown.
After protesters were issued a warning to disperse, they drove upwards of 60 miles to support the owners of Newell Gym in Hillsborough Township.
“I don’t know anyone there but I’m gonna go there,” said Edward Young, of Brick Township. “I can’t even work out because I have a bad back.”
During a news conference last week, Murphy said he is aware of the gym, and that, “They’re out of compliance and that’s not going to be tolerated.” On Monday, Murphy had a warning for those who show up at the gym tomorrow.
“If you show up at that gym again tomorrow, there’s going to be a different reality than showing today. These just aren’t words, we’ve gotta enforce this,” Murphy said. “But I also don’t want to start World War III and I’m not worried about that right now, to be honest with you, because people have overwhelmingly done the right thing.”
Trumbetti and Smith say they’re actually not making any money right now. Members’ automatic payments will remain frozen until the state legally reopens.
For now, they’re making a statement and even if they get served with additional citations or jail time, they will continue to open.
CBS3’s Trang Do and Alecia Reid contributed to this report.