PUYALLUP, Wash. — The owners of a Puyallup gym are staging a protest inside their facility Tuesday, urging its members to “exercise your rights” and work out.
Northwest Fitness Company has been closed since March 16.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s phased reopening plan delays reopening gyms for at least several more weeks, but Northwest Fitness Company co-owner Shane Cowhig said the governor’s order does not trump his establishment’s right to free speech.
“We don't feel like we're defying his order,” Cowhig said. “We feel like it's within our legal rights to protest, and that's what we're doing, and we're just inviting our members to do that with us.”
Cowhig said the gym is technically not reopening and will not be open to non-members. He said it was unclear how long the protest would last.
“We just feel like we absolutely have the right just like anyone else does to stay in business,” he said. Cowhig said he has applied for several sources of financial assistance from the state and government, but has received no funding to keep his small business afloat.
On Northwest Fitness Company's Facebook page, the protest has become a flashpoint. One customer posted: "I support this 110%. It's about time."
Another wrote: "This is the dumbest, most selfish, dangerous thing you could possibly do!"
“They have their opinion,” Cowhig said. “We have ours.”
However, George McGuire, owner of Create Fitness, a small personal training gym in Kent, said he understands the frustration of business owners like Cowhig, but disagrees with the method.
“Everybody's frustrated. This is a tough situation,” said McGuire. “I don't necessarily believe that that's the correct way to go about things.”\
Instead of inviting customers back, McGuire has created a change.org petition lobbying the governor to allow small operations like his to open earlier with strict social distancing mandates.
Currently, indoor gyms are set to reopen in phase three of the governor’s plan, which could be several weeks down the line. McGuire said small fitness facilities like his have fewer customers than larger "big box" gyms and can implement more effective controls.
He believes small personal training gyms should be allowed to open during phase two when salons reopen.
“When we first open, we will allow no more than six people in the facility at a time,” McGuire said. “Each person who comes in will have their own area, their own set of equipment.”
He also said staff would wear gloves and masks and deep clean the facility every two hours.
But Cowhig of Northwest Fitness Company said he had no intention on waiting for a reply from the governor.
He said his message to Inslee is simple: “Open back up!”