Gyms stay open indoors despite health orders
Despite the regional stay-at-home order, some local gyms are continuing indoor operations. Others have closed completely or moved outdoors to comply with the mandate.
The Dec. 6 stay-at-home order limits gyms and health clubs to outdoor operations only. Indoor fitness is only allowed in the red tier or better.
But some business owners feel trapped and have stayed open to stay in business.
“We’re at a point now, we’re really fighting to survive as a business,” Tony Calhoun, owner of AC4 Fitness, said. “We can’t afford to close again.”
He expects to be served a citation for keeping his Santa Barbara and Goleta health clubs open, but he estimates that he won’t be the only one.
Multiple government agencies across the county work together to enforce the stay-at-home order.
“We aim toward voluntary compliance, but we have seen a little bit more pushback with this go around,” said Raquel Zick, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.
The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is aware of the gym’s operations and is communicating with health officials about the industry, said John Savrnoch, South County chief deputy district attorney. The office can’t disclose if an investigation is open or pending.
The D.A.’s office aims for voluntary compliance as well and has not had an instance yet where a business has disobeyed orders after being given a warning.
Through the windows of a handful of local gyms, members can be seen exercising indoors.
Some gyms, even in downtown Santa Barbara, have moved equipment and classes outdoors.
Mr. Calhoun said he can’t logistically move equipment outdoors, though he’s considered it. Some are extremely heavy and wired to the floor, and he said moving the equipment outdoors will void its warranty.
Bond Fitness, at 211 W. Carrillo St., created a workout area on the side of its building. Staff haul equipment out every morning and take it back indoors after close.
“It’s exhausting, and everything is getting worn through that process,” said Stephen Stowe, owner of Bond Fitness. “If this is what we have to do to get through this thing and do our part, we’ll do it.”
His friends and his gym’s members have pointed out the non-complying gyms.
“Everybody has choices to make, and if that’s the choices they want to make, it’s a challenge when we’re all working together to get to the other side. But there’s also survival,” he said.
National chains, such as Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness, filed for bankruptcy this year.
“For eight months, we haven’t been able to conduct business as usual,” Mr. Calhoun said. “We’ve given far more refunds lately than we received in membership income.”
In September, Andrew Van Gundy organized a GoFundMe fundraiser for AC4 Fitness with a goal of raising $50,000 to help the business. Just over $16,000 has been raised from 99 donations.
The GoFundMe says the “owners have been complying with all county health ordinances, which have forced their doors closed.”
But in the summer as well as now, their doors are open when health ordinances require gyms to only operate outdoors.
AC4’s rationale this summer revolved around the club’s private key club model. Members have a fob to get inside, and staff isn’t needed 24/7.
Fewer members work out at a time, and there aren’t classes. It is not accepting new members either.
But because staff isn’t around to enforce rules — such as the mask mandate — a lot of responsibility falls on the members themselves.
“I believe in our civil liberties,” Mr. Calhoun said. “People are ultimately responsible for their own health.”
A sign posted on the door says “closed” in block letters with “members with key fobs only” typed smaller below.
Two sheets of paper below discourage public agents from entering without a warrant, and it declares that barring club members from entering is a civil rights violation.
“. . . any emergency orders, county or city ordinances or department regulations related to masks, distancing or any infringements on the right to free assembly or free speech are null and void as they are in conflict with federal and state established laws,” it says.
It also threatens anyone who harasses the business and its customers:
“Any person who harasses, intimidates, threatens or makes false accusations against this business, its owners, managers, employees and patrons, or who files a false claim or unfounded charges with a state or local agency regarding the lawful functioning of this business. . . will be deemed a ‘direct threat’ to the health and safety of this business and its owners, managers, employees and patrons. . . .”
Mr. Calhoun believes the ordinance is tyrannical and doesn’t think gyms are a threat to the health of the majority of people. In fact, he is proud of the health benefits his club provides to its members.
“If they are in that high-risk group, I don’t encourage them to be here,” he said. “For the majority of the public, it continues to be a good thing.”
He insists that his health club is just that: healthy. Although the business side of AC4 Fitness is far from thriving.