Opinion: Daily Journal

Fitness center owner wants to open, protect his clients, but state says no

Photo courtesy of <a href=http://www.localfitness.com.au/>local fitness.com.au</a>
Photo courtesy of local fitness.com.au

Steve Pinkerton is a business owner who now does little business.

He isn’t unique because of that, and he gets it. This pandemic and the ensuing shutdowns and lockdowns have taken much. 

Pinkerton owns Vitality Fitness in Concord, in a 50,000-square-foot facility he also owns, housing several other businesses, including a chiropractor, photo studio, and a hair salon. They pay Pinkerton rent, and some of them won’t reopen.

Pinkerton says he’s lost some $70,000 in revenue this month, and, because independent contractors comprise 80% of his payroll, getting money from the federal Payroll Protection Program presents yet another problem.

What Pinkerton does, what he provides, is important. Vital for many.

When gyms and fitness-related businesses were left off the governor’s list of non-essential businesses, Pinkerton immediately spoke up. 

He wrote to a local representative, N.C. Sen. Todd Johnson, R-Union. He told the senator about how he wanted to protect his 10-year-old business, which he started in his garage. He talked about how he wanted to help people improve their lives, to extend their lives, about one-one-one training to keep people active and moving. He talked about people recovering from surgery, people who are struggling to lose weight

He talked about his clients’ mental health.

“Over the past decade in this business,” he wrote, “I have had more feedback thanking me for providing a solution for a healthy outlet to deal with the massive amount of stressors … on our community leaders each day.

“Our facility has been a beacon of hope for these leaders. …”

Alternatives to relieve stress are much less desirable, he wrote. 

He talked about measures he would take to ensure people are safe. Staff will take clients’ temperatures, each training session would be 600 square feet from the next, and coaches and clients would remain six feet apart. He bought two hydroxyl generators to kill airborne viruses and contracted with a company, which works with nursing facilities throughout the Southeast, to clean and disinfect the facility each week. It was all quite expensive, but Pinkerton wanted to keep working. He wanted to keep helping people.

“It’s one of the safest, cleanest places you can have,” he told Carolina Journal.

The words health and fitness transcend simple definition, yet they’re distinctly personal. Getting and staying healthy — physically, mentally, and spiritually — is uniquely individual while at the same time universal in its demands. It’s hard, it’s not always satisfying, and it often hurts. But it’s absolutely necessary.

“I want people to understand mental health,” Pinkerton says. “People … who can’t deal with stress and anxiety, and all this stuff coming on. They need an outlet.”

Fitness becomes a habit, a lifestyle. For many as necessary as a daily meal. People join gyms in January looking for a new start. By February they’ve had enough.

“That’s a scary thing for me on the gym side,” Pinkerton says. “You give them five or six weeks off. .. There’s a reason people quit.”

Because it’s hard. Give people an excuse to take a break and they will. Many won’t come back.

Johnson and his staff tried to help, first referring Pinkerton’s case to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The request ended up with the state Department of Revenue, where, citing Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order, it was denied.

Like me and my colleagues, Pinkerton wants — and expects — more data from governments on all levels, and, like us, wants answers. About things like: What precise slice of the population is most vulnerable and why? Why aren’t we testing more and separating the asymptomatic? If we do increase and spread testing, the number of people found to have COVID-19 will surely increase. Will that, then, only lead to more shutdowns, lockdowns, and suppressions?

Life isn’t fair, I get it. And the virus doesn’t discriminate. Yes, yes. But why do I feel as though I’m being punished for taking care of myself, for eating right, and for running and biking — my YMCA is closed, after all — tens of miles a week.

But, mostly because of a dearth of data, I’m just another state resident, as are we all. Those who died of the virus, and those infected with it, are found in stories replete with anecdotes and sometimes passing references to underlying conditions. We still know very little, from the state, as well as from the federal government.

“It’s in my best interest to manage this as smartly as I can,” Pinkerton says. “If we’re not working, we’re not making money.”

Businesses, those that survive, will eventually reopen.

The proverbial two sides to every coin, Pinkerton says. 

“If I open the wrong way, and people get sick, I will absolutely be affected. But we need to have that choice, and not have that choice made for us.”