RI fitness facilities band together, plead with Raimondo to let them reopen

Business News

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo has extended the statewide pause for another week, and among those most directly impacted are fitness and recreational facilities.

Fitness facility owners tell 12 News the pause is basically shutting down their business for an entire month, with Christmas week now the expected time they will be able to reopen.

Dozens of fitness facilities are now banding together to plea with the governor to reopen.

“Never have we ever lost control over our small business,” TLC Performing Arts Co-owner Tracy Ciccone Ditroia said. “We need to open to stay in business.”

Owner of Dream Big Gymnastics Shannon Cornicelli tells 12 News her goal of expanding her studio has been shut down.

“I feel like we are being picked on,” Cornicelli said. “She’s doing something to the smaller businesses, maybe the people with fewer employees.”

Now, 50 small businesses that fall under the state’s indoor sports category are demanding to be considered essential. Attorney Stephen Antonucci is lobbying on their behalf to negotiate with the governor.

“We want to be a part of the solution,” Antonucci said. “We want to work with the governor’s staff, with commerce, DBR, we want to open these folks back up safely, but just to blanket close these businesses is unfair.”

The businesses are sending a letter to the state and have several online petitions demanding change.

Ciccone Ditroia said the final straw was seeing hundred of people pack together at the mall on Saturday. She says her average dance class is eight children, and they have been taking every precaution.

“Temperature checks, COVID screenings, they are way more than six-feet apart from each other, they all wear a mask for every class,” Ciccone Ditroia said. “I have a viewing window, where I removed the glass so that we can open the windows and get cross ventilation.”

Also in Cranston, World Martial Arts has a similar story.

“We’ve followed all the rules from the beginning,” Owner David Babits said. “We have one entrance in, one entrance out. We have over 4,000-square-feet, so we are able to safely spread everyone out. Through this entire time, we had zero cases of COVID.”

The business owners said the now three-week pause is affecting much more than their small business.

“We’re essential to kids and adults physical, emotional and mental health,” Babits said.

Cornicelli said they have high-level athletes who are falling behind compared to other states with open gyms.

“They are vying for D1 scholarships throughout the country,” she said. “They are not going to be able to be competitive if we continue this shutdown any longer.”

401 Strength and Fitness Owner Emerson Kilgore offers football strength training, he says the physical aspect is big, but the mental aspect is being overlooked.

“My gym was an outlet where young men could come in and really work and do their thing and again it’s taken away,” Kilgore said. “Then possibly not get the opportunity to showcase their talent for colleges or whatever next level they want to go to is unfortunate.”

Kilgore said there should be a difference in categorization, between small fitness facilities and large franchised gyms.

“I am getting called every day and I have video of my little ones asking me to open up,” Ciccone Ditroia said. “This is their second home to a lot of kids that may not be accepted in other places. Now, you take this away and they are home all day and feeling depressed.”

The business owners tell 12 News they would be open to getting regular inspections, or limited capacity restrictions, over being forced to close completely.

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