Tuesday, 01 September 2020 17:27

Planet Fitness opens in Rockingham ahead of governor's announcment

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Planet Fitness opened today in Richmond Plaza. Planet Fitness opened today in Richmond Plaza. Charlie Melvin - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Despite an ongoing executive order keeping gyms closed, one national chain opened up its new Richmond County location Tuesday.

Planet Fitness opened its doors at the former theater space — which sat empty for more than 20 years — in Richmond Plaza.

The RO was referred to a corporate email address for questions regarding the opening and received the following statement:

“We look forward to safely and responsibly getting North Carolinians moving again. At Planet Fitness, the safety of our members and team members is our top priority. We are taking a number of steps to protect their health and well-being, which include enhanced cleanliness and sanitization policies and procedures, physical distancing measures in our large and spacious clubs, mask mandates, touchless check-in and more. Using these protocols, we have safely reopened more than 1,500 Planet Fitness locations across the country with 45+ million check-ins since May 1 and no cases of contracting COVID-19 at the gym. Now more than ever, it’s important to stay active, in order to stay healthy. This is especially important for the many Planet Fitness members in North Carolina who live in underserved areas that do not provide other safe, reliable and affordable options for physical fitness.”

All members and guests have been required to wear face masks at all times inside the gym since Aug. 1, according to a press release.

Questions about when the gym was originally scheduled to open and why the company made the decision to open in violation of the governor’s order were not answered.

Tri-City Inc., now C.F. Smith Property Group, announced a lease agreement with the fitness giant in November 2019.

The Rockingham Fire Department responded to a small fire in January while the building was undergoing renovations.

Freedom Fitness was located on the opposite side of the plaza, but was moved over to Broadview Plaza into the former furniture section of Big Lots, which closed in early 2018.

“It just wasn’t a good situation to have two gyms in the same center,” Neil Robinette, CEO of C.F. Smith, told the RO late last year.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday afternoon that gyms would be allowed to open — for the first time since late March —  at 30% capacity after 5 p.m. this Friday.

Evolution Health Club owner Blake Altman was cited with a class 2 misdemeanor, which is subject to a $1,000 fine, when he reopened at a new location at the end of May.

Detective Lt. George Gillenwater said Tuesday that the owner of Freedom Fitness has also been cited.

When asked if Planet Fitness would also be cited, Gillenwater said, “We will look into it.”

Even with the citation, Altman has kept his doors open.

In late June, legislators passed a bill that would have allowed gyms to reopen with certain restrictions, but that was vetoed by Cooper.

“Whomever is in charge of deciding whether gyms remain closed or can reopen obviously has no idea of the medicinal, mental and physical benefits (of) a gym or health club facility,” Altman said Tuesday, prior to Cooper’s announcement. “It’s more than a social spot, it’s a daily medicine for a huge majority of gym goers.”

“Gyms tend to get viewed as a physical improvement establishment, but in reality, it’s more mental health improvements than physical.”

Altman, who said his center increased its membership by 200 by being the only local gym open for most of the summer, added that a gym is “the last place” that should be on a do-not-open list.

Rockingham Fitness, in downtown Rockingham, will not reopen, but not because of the pandemic, according to Andy Cagle.

Cagle said the family is trying to sell the building and equipment.

Richard Robinson, owner of the Rockingham club Double Vision, said “local government needs to address the franchise gym the same way they treated local small gyms.”

Under Cooper’s order, bars remain closed and Monday the governor extended the prohibition of alcohol sales after 11 p.m.

Robinson said it “seems a bit odd” that Cooper made his announcement after large chain gyms had said they planned to open.

“Maybe we (bar owners) should announce we are opening and see what happens,” he said. “Oh wait, we’re not on Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500 list.”