By Matt Petrillo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia gym owners are in the fight of their lives and many are now calling on city leaders to reopen fitness centers after the city forced them to shut down last Friday. Gyms all across the city have signs that read “health is essential.”

Now, gym owners are taking their message to City Hall, saying they want to stay open or the city needs to provide financial help.

A group of Philadelphia gym owners held a free workout outside the Municipal Services Building in Center City Tuesday morning as a way to exercise their rights and protest the city’s decision to close all fitness centers.

“As of Nov. 20, 2020, the City of Philadelphia completely shut down all fitness facilities without showing valid transmission data or providing funds to keep our businesses afloat,” said Unite Fitness owner Gavin McKay.

The group calls itself the Philadelphia Fitness Coalition. From across City Hall, they called on elected officials to designate gyms as essential for the physical and mental wellbeing of people, and urged leaders to reopen them.

“No one involved us in the process whatsoever. It was a completely unilateral decision made by the city,” said Jaime Sutton of J’aime Fitness.

Mayor Jim Kenney responded Tuesday, reiterating his announcement from last week that gyms will remain closed until at least Jan. 1.

“Our public health professionals tell us this is the best thing to do,” Kenney said.

A previous decision allowed gyms to reopen back in July. But Kenney now says this second shutdown is necessary after the city saw a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“As many people we can keep from getting sick or dying, I think that is the paramount issue,” Kenney said.

Still, the Fitness Coalition believes the city should provide gyms financial relief if they’re forced to close.

“This is potentially destroying all our small businesses in Philadelphia and changing the fitness industry as we know it. Mr. Mayor, we’ve done everything you’ve asked so far now please give us a lifeline to survive,” Fit Academy owner Osayi Osunde said.

To that end, Kenney said city coffers are not only empty, but the city faces a $750 million deficit.

The mayor also says business relief should come from the federal government but at the moment, that looks like a long shot.

But to help, city officials suggested that gym members continue to pay for their memberships to help owners stay afloat during the six-week closure.

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