Local gym owner apologizes for email that offers members to rent facilities

Coronavirus

An owner of gyms in East Aurora and Orchard Park may be in hot water with the Erie County Health Department by allowing limited workouts during the state mandated shutdown.

The owner of the two SNAP Fitness gyms told News 4 Investigates that the email that offered to rent out the gyms “unleashed a fury of misinterpretations.”

Gyms, salons, barber shops and other personal care businesses have been closed in most of Erie County since November because of climbing Covid-19 infection rates and hospitalizations.

The email, obtained by News 4, instructed interested members to pay in cash and sign a rental agreement.

“We need your utmost discretion in regards to this as it needs to remain on the down low,” the email states.

The email also offered free on-demand classes for those who are uncomfortable entering a gym and required everyone inside to wear a mask and wipe down the equipment after each use. The owner stressed several times that she was not accepting new members.

The Erie County Health Department got wind of the email and told News 4 that it has launched an investigation.

The health department said the orange zone restrictions require gyms to reduce their workforce 100% and prohibits renting any facilities to individuals.

On Friday, the gym owner and manager, who did not want to be identified, apologized for the email.

“Our email was a private communication sent to those limited members so that we could offer them an ability to stay well in these trying times,” the owner said.

“Our email had options. One option was to rent the club for their own unique purpose at different times indicated on a rental agreement. We have had approximately 30 individuals opt to rent the space.”

The owner and manager of the two gyms said both shutdowns have caused them serious financial distress and they are concerned about how they will sustain their families. The owner has four children and the manager has five children.

They both said the state’s orders are contradictory and confusing and they asked why karate and dance centers and big-box stores can remain open, but not gyms, salons and other personal care facilities.

Since the first shutdown, they lost more than 70% of their memberships because many people were afraid of being in a gym, even with CDC safety protocols in place, which included the owner spending several thousand dollars to upgrade the HVAC system. The owner said she has been required to pay full rent, utilities, and taxes during the entire pandemic.

The owner described her two gyms as “small boutique clubs” and several times referred to her members as family.

“Since March 2020, we have been closed for 6-months, opened for 92 days, with over 3,000 check ins and no Covid cases,” the owner said, “and now closed again.”

“In the interim to open, we increased costs, but we maintained faith with consistency, only to be singled out again as a Covid-spreader. To date, we have no statistics or data presented to us that unequivocally demonstrates we are a risk to the community or our loyal members.”

The owner and manager said they have attempted to plead their case to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who ordered the shutdowns, County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s administration and other local officials, but no one responded.

Gary D. Grote, executive director of the Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce, told News 4 that he spoke with the manager and offered to help by sending elected leaders a position paper with other chambers of commerce representing nearly 2,100 local businesses in Erie County.

The position paper calls for an adjustment to the restrictions.

“We believe that the vast majority of local businesses have made substantial investments and taken significant action to ensure they are following safety protocols and NY Forward guidance,” states the letter signed by the chambers of commerce in Akron, Alden, Clarence, East Aurora, Kenmore-Tonawanda, Orchard Park and West Seneca.

“Those businesses that have remained in compliance and continue to be vigilant should be allowed to remain open to the public. Sweeping mandated closures should not be conducted by industry (salons, barber shops, gyms, etc), but rather individually.

“The small business community is the lifeblood of our local economy, and we strongly encourage our elected officials to proceed with extreme caution when making decisions that could severely impact the future of our regional economy and workforce for many years to come.”

On Friday, Grote told News 4 that, “There’s not much more we can do.”

“I really felt bad for SNAP,” he said

“They are getting hit hard like this but they aren’t the only ones and it is just so devastating.”

Rep. Chris Jacobs (NY-27) on Friday called on the Democratic House leadership to consider additional relief for small businesses.

“I rise in support of extending the successful and bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program by making $138 billion in already appropriated funds available to help more businesses that are experiencing dire and desperate need,” he said on the House floor.

“This week it was reported that almost 30% of small businesses in New York have closed for good due to the COVID-19 epidemic, and many more will face the same fate without further aid.”

The SNAP gym owner said her businesses may not survive through the holiday season.

“We are taking one step every day closer to the bankruptcy court doorsteps,” she said.

“We ask people in power to care because they will never understand. If you have a paycheck and are not singled out, you don’t understand. We have children, no government assistance and our livelihoods have been stripped from us through to no fault of our own.”

Here is the gym owner’s complete, unedited statement sent to News 4.

It is with great concern for our members well-being that SNAP East Aurora and Orchard Park sent an email to its limited membership. Apparently, this email did not read as it was intended and unleashed a fury of misinterpretations and misunderstandings. We sincerely apologize for this.

SNAP EA and OP are small boutique clubs. We are not large gym facilities with a thousand or more members. Our membership consists of loyal family-like caring people who love our clubs for what we offer and who help take care of the clubs as if their own. Our members are invested. Our email was a private communication sent to those limited members so that we could offer them an ability to stay well in these trying times. Our email had options. One option was to rent the club for their own unique purpose at different times indicated on a rental agreement. We have had approximately 30 individuals opt to rent the space.

As we have learned this email was sent to the press, we apologize for the misinterpretation that “we are opening” as if in operation. We have not opened our facilities to the public. We are not accepting new members. We are not allowing guests. We are not allowing SNAP reciprocal members to enter the clubs. All because we are not open and because we are complying with the executive order requiring our business to close until further notice.

Since March 2020, we have been closed for 6-months, opened for 92-days with over 3000 check ins and no Covid cases, and now closed again. In the interim to open, we increased costs to comply with CDC and State requirements for safe reopening. But, still, we only had 20% of our prior membership return. This does not cover our monthly costs, but we maintained faith with consistency, only to be singled out again as a Covid-spreader.

To date, we have no statistics or data presented to us that unequivocally demonstrates we are a risk to the community or our loyal members. But we are forced to endure another closing. We have families, but no paychecks and continuing costs in order to maintain our businesses for the long-term. However, the long-term is starting to prove to be too expensive. Politicians who set these rules have paychecks. We are taking one step every day closer to the bankruptcy court doorsteps.

We ask the people in power to care because they will never understand. If you have a paycheck and are not singled out, you don’t understand. We have children, no government assistance, and our livelihoods have been stripped from us through no fault of our own. We are not making money from this option in our email. We are taking care of those members who care about their own health and who genuinely care about us.

The front door of the SNAP Fitness in East Aurora.

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