Gym, indoor diner risk fines to keep businesses afloat

The co-owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, Frank Trumbetti, says he’s already received 18 citations and is receiving a $10,000 fine a day for keeping his doors open and defying Gov. Phil Murphy’s orders to stay closed.

The father of five says he broke into the building after locks were changed, and he now sleeps at the gym to protect his business.

“Right now, we have 14,392 people who have walked through these doors since June 16. We have have done all of our biometric scanning. We have not had a single person come here who has come back and said they had COVID,” he said.

Trumbetti says the administration refuses to observe the safety measures he’s put in place. Equipment was moved around to maintain social distancing, his team constantly sanitizes the space, and everyone entering has their temperature checked and fills out a questionnaire. It’s a precaution the gym is taking to help with contact tracing in the event someone test positive.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Joe Logue felt comfortable coming back to the gym after seeing all the steps that Trumbetti put in place. He says he suffers from PTSD after being injured in Afghanistan and the gym helps his mental health — something he was struggling with during the lockdown.

“I can’t explain to you how much happier I’ve been since coming here,” he said.

Trumbetti says he’s fighting the governor to help people like Logue, so he has no plan to back down.

“The government’s job is to protect our rights, not our health, and they have failed at both of them,” Trumbetti said.

Murphy has said the virus is most lethal when indoors due to lack of ventilation, and that’s why gyms and indoor dining have not been allowed to reopen.

“I have nothing but sympathy for the small business owners,” Murphy said. “I saw some of the gym folks last night on CNN. We’ll get there, I hope, God willing, sooner than later. But the nature of what you do in a gym, and the nature of what you do in a diner are different than the nature of what you do in a big box store. In a big box store you have to keep your mask on the whole time. You walk in, you do your business and you leave.”

“I know they’re going to come. I know what’s in the forecast. But for me, personally, I’m not trying to defy anybody. I understand all these other things, but for me, constitutionally, I’m allowed to keep my business open and running,” said Brian Brindisi, the owner of Lacey’s Lakeside Diner.

Brindisi has already received seven citations for allowing customers to eat indoors at his diner.

“I don’t think it’s fair that these big box stores can operate their businesses without any problems, anybody giving them a hard time. I mean, there’s no protocol for them. I don’t see them taking temperatures. They might wear their masks, but they wear them half down. There are a number of issues that these bars that are open all the time, they’re shoulder to shoulder inside,” he said.

Brindisi knows about life threatening illnesses after spending a year in the hospital battling Crohn’s Disease. When he finally got healthy, he bought the restaurant.

“We were doing well with it. And then when this happened, everything came crashing down,” he said.

He says he’s already spent about $70,000 of his retirement money to make his diner COVID safe and stay in business. Customers have their temperature taken upon entry, tables and menus are constantly sanitized, and he hired a company to come in once a week to clean the whole restaurant.”

“We used the last of what we had just to keep the doors open,” he said.

He hasn’t been fined yet, but right now he says he has to keep fighting just stay afloat.