Dowagiac gym owner relieved by new executive orders

NILES — Gyms across the state can open their doors once again.

Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-176, which allows for the reopening of Michigan’s gyms and pools in those regions where they remain closed and allowing for organized sports practices and competitions to resume in those regions where they remain restricted, subject to strict protections meant to limit spread of the virus.

Gyms and pools may begin to reopen on Wednesday.

The news is welcome for Gary Marshall, a Dowagiac resident who owns FitStop 24 locations in both Niles and Dowagiac. Marshall reopened his gyms in June against COVID-19 mandates and has reported more than $18,000 in fines since then.

“I’m a little frustrated that we had to wait so long,” Marshall said. “[Whitmer is] making the right decision. She’s saving lives. We’re taking the proper precautions to stay safe. As small business owners, our livelihoods are at stake. The quicker we get open, the better it is for everybody.”

The governor also signed Executive Order 2020-175, outlining strict workplace safety measures gyms and pools must follow to protect people from the spread of COVID-19.

Gyms must require wearing of masks at all times, including times of exercise, configure workout stations or implement protocols to enable 6 feet of distance between individuals during exercise sessions, reduce class sizes to enable at least 6 feet of separation between individuals, provide equipment-cleaning products throughout the gym, and more.

According to Marshall, his gyms have been taking care in making sure equipment is clean and patrons are safe.

“We offer free masks and free gloves,” Marshall said. “We have partitions in place to emphasize social distancing. We have hand sanitizers in 10 locations throughout our buildings. Everyone wipes down their machines, and we have someone sanitizing the facility every hour on the hour. We have had plenty of time to prepare. If I would’ve stayed closed down, there’s no way I would’ve been able to go on with the business.”

While Marshall said he understands the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, he is disappointed in the way the state has handled the reopening process.

“I’m still not a fan,” he said. “You’re gonna tell us when to open next week when every day is critical to a small business owner? Tomorrow could be the difference between a business remaining open or having to shut down. Science doesn’t back up her reasoning. I think she was forced into opening gyms back up. You can open up schools but not gyms?”

Marshall plans on his gyms to be open for 24 hours a day starting on Wednesday. He said he is thankful for the support he has received and believes that his gyms allows patrons to maximize their health.

“Everyone in the community is aware of what we need to do in order to stay safe,” Marshall said. “I guarantee that you’re safer here than at Lowe’s or Walmart. Small business owners need to battle their ways back to the top. It’s a little frustrating. We understand COVID is real. It’s scary. But the healthier you are, the better chance you have to overcome it.”

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