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Gym Owners Wait For Green Light To Reopen

Ross Conti, owner of Darwin’s Health Club in Fredonia, is pictured outside his Water Street business Thursday. Conti said he is eager to reopen, though when that might happen remains unclear. Photo by Natasha Matteliano

Gym owners in the Dunkirk and Fredonia area are looking forward to reopening, though when that might be remains unclear.

Ross Conti, owner of Darwin’s Health Club at 47 Water St., said his business — like many gyms across New York state — remains “blowing in the wind” after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced they would not be included in the initial rollout in Phase Four.

“Being shut down for three months has been a real hardship, mostly because of not knowing when we can open,” Conti said, noting that he has been in contact with County Executive PJ Wendel and had previously been hoping gyms would be included in Phase Three. However, when that did not come to fruition, Conti said Phase Four was where many assumed gyms would begin to welcome back customers.

“I guess those assumptions were not necessarily true — we’re still blowing in the wind,” Conti said. “It’s a double-edged sword. We’re engaged in doing many things to facilitate better safety. Obviously we’re disinfecting the equipment and providing proper distancing between equipment.”

At Chautauqua Health & Fitness at 1170 Central Ave. in Dunkirk, co-owner Greg Craft said he’s been frustrated, not necessarily because gyms are not included in Phase Four, but because some businesses have been “kept in the dark.”

“This is all unprecedented, I understand that, this a pandemic,” Craft said. “The problem is that there’s been no guidance. I understand you don’t want there to be another wave, but at the same time, if you’re not sure, tell us from the start.”

Craft said Chautauqua Health & Fitness brought in several health professionals to establish guidelines for customers to follow once the gym opens. Those guidelines include keeping equipment 6 feet apart, doubling up on sanitation and disinfecting stations, limiting “supersets,” or the moving from one exercise to another in a certain area and discouraging customers from bringing in gym bags.

Since closing, Craft said the gym has received plenty of messages from those wondering when they will be allowed to return. He said the gym has not charged memberships during the closure, and noted that employees have been paid the last three months.

“It’s frustrating to be kept in the dark,” Craft said. “We’ve gotten no guidance where first we thought it would be Phase Three and then it wasn’t. Then it went to Phase Four, and then that was pulled out from under us.

“From our own standpoint, we get it. It’s all about safety and what’s best for everyone.”

Meanwhile, all carpet that had been inside Darwin’s Health Club has been removed, a project Conti said was far more difficult than he anticipated and aided by “some great volunteers.” Those sections will now include rubber mats, which are easier to clean.

Like other gym owners within the county, Conti said he has heard from several eager customers itching to get in a workout. He said one person even offered money to come in for a private session. Conti declined the offer.

“We had assumed Phase Four would be (June 30) or July 1, which would have been us,” Conti said. “But with the words from the governor this week, it seems like all bets are off at this point. I haven’t seen the updates today, but it seems to me like they could go with a case-by-case basis or county-by-county. I’m not sure how they will decide.”

He added, “I want to be prepared to open on Tuesday.”

Conti, who has worked on a farm and served in the military, said he plans to be in the gym daily once reopened. He said he plans to bring back staff, but noted the uncertainty regarding hours of operation and how many customers might return at the onset.

“I’ve been in jobs all my life, from farming and in the Navy and then with the gym,” he said. “You just work every day, and then all of a sudden to be idle like this for the longest time with just nothing to do.”

Conti said he misses seeing his customers. “It’s not just a workout but a culture,” he said. “It’s a second home for a lot of people. I miss seeing them.”

Added Craft: “We understand that not everyone will be comfortable returning to the gym and that’s OK. However, in these uncertain times our health and wellness is one of the few things we have complete control over. And we’re committed to being as safe of a facility as possible to our members that choose to use us.”

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