Partial re-openings come to Morristown gyms, Sept. 1, but some owners in no hurry to head inside

Rod Murray with a client at Body4Life in Morristown. Photo courtesy of Body4Life.
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By Tyler Barth

While many Morristown businesses have struggled during the pandemic, some town gyms haven’t done too badly.

Starting Tuesday, gyms can reopen their indoor facilities to quarter capacity, as announced by Gov. Phil Murphy last week.

While chains such as Tilton Fitness and 24-Hour Fitness have closed facilities in New Jersey, Morristown’s gyms have been mixing virtual classes and outdoor lessons to create a makeshift business model.

“COVID-19 has taken a tremendous toll on people we love, and yet it has also showed so many of us the need to stay active and healthy for our physical health and their mental well-being.” said Rod Murray, owner of Body4Life, a personal training studio.

All of New Jersey’s gyms were closed for two months after the COVID-19 pandemic took off in mid-March. By late May and early June, cities slowly began to permit outdoor classes again, at first one-on-one and soon after in small groups. Large gyms reopened for indoor one-on-one sessions in late June, followed by fitness centers in early July.

Outdoor sessions have proven popular.

Yet it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows in New Jersey. The Atilis Gym in Bellmawr famously reopened and refused to close in May, spurring a massive legal battle that ended in heavy fines for the owners and, on Aug. 13, 2020, revocation of their license.

“We’ve certainly lost some members,” said Karianne Anthes, owner of CrossFit Morristown, which reopened on Dumont Place with one-on-one outdoor sessions in late May, “whether it was on their side, their jobs being in jeopardy and just not being able to afford a gym membership, or people who didn’t live close to the area.”

Some gyms are in no hurry to get back inside. There still are a few more weeks of warm weather, and, according to both Murray and Chris Jones, owner of NBD Training Zone on West Park Place, working out with a mask is much harder than you’d think.

“We have a nice outdoor space, so we’re not really rushing to get back inside,” said Brian Vagnini, co-owner of 13 Stars Community Fitness on Elm Street. He said 13 Stars is a small gym that thrives on member consistency, making its yard a good fit for classes. He reported a 25 percent dip in membership, but said most of his regulars have returned.

Besides wearing a mask, gym goers will be expected to wipe down machines before and after using them, and they will have their temperatures checked at the door.

Morristown gym owners are trying to remain optimistic. The pandemic has caused the community to value its gyms more,  Jones asserted, pointing to the amount of support and members interested in online courses.

The year 2020 “has proven that health and wellness, they’re the most important things at this point. If you don’t get that now, I’m not sure if you will,” said Jones, who told News12 in late July that COVID was “pretty brutal for our business.”

Murray was a little more upbeat.

“I am even more confident in the future than when I opened this Body4Life training studio here on Wilmot Walk eight years ago,” as confident “as I’ve been at any point in my 30 year career as a personal trainer,” Murray said.

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