By Clint Parker
Asheville – In phase 2 of NC Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening from the COVID-19 Stay Home mandate, swimming pools were allowed to resume allowing people to swim, but gym owners were told the had to remain closed. One gym owner could not make sense of that decision, either health- or business-wise, so he reopened on Saturday morning (May 23).
“It’s a statement to the government of North Carolina,” said Danny Sharpe, owner of Biltmore Fitness since 2014. He opened his doors to his family-owned gym on Biltmore Ave. Not a political statement but one of economics and common sense that will let the governor know that gyms could be operated safely. “They said we’re going to open swimming pools, but not gyms. I promise you…that you’re safer here. Gym owners are going to have stronger protocols. Making sure we’re social distancing, making sure we’re doing things the right way.”
He then said, “What are we going to do, stay shut down? This is just my way of making a statement for all small businesses and especially gym owners across the state who are slowly dying. I’m not here to fight city hall. When they shut me down, I’ll stay shut down, I’ll stay shut down until June 26 and be a good little boy, but I got to say something today.”
Sharpe, who’s in his mid-50s, has been lifting weights since he was a teenager. He says his gym is usually home to about 1,400 and have about 200 a day use his gym, but of those who have left since the shutdown, Sharpe says its been because those members have had to move away to find work. He believes there will be a limit on how many can be in the gym when he does get back open, most likely starting at about half the fire code capacity. He operated on Saturday with social distancing measures in place.
Asked what he would say to people that would say that he was endangering the public, Sharpe said, “I would say, ‘I respect your opinion. I respect your outlook.’ The problem is they don’t respect ours. In my opinion, that’s the biggest thing wrong with the entire country.”
Sharpe said he got thousands of messages of support from social media, telephone calls, texts and in-person comments. He said he received very little negative feedback.
He also said that working out is not just about physical health, but about mental health too. “People don’t realize how much mental health is involved in working out.” From former alcohol and drug users to nurses on the frontline, people find working out good for mind and body, says Sharpe.
“I feel like you are safer here than with three hundred of your closest friends at Walmart and Lowes.”
Steve Jamerson was one of the first ones at the gym of the some 80 people that came by Saturday. “I’ve been working out since I was 13, I’m 45 now. It’s part of my daily routine. If I don’t get it in then my mind is foggy. I stopped drinking about 13 years ago so this is certainly a boost for me to help me get going in life. It fixes me up every day. Asked about Sharpe’s opening, Jamerson said, “I think it’s right to open up the gym. If you can be in a restaurant and sit around for about an hour and a half with several different other people, you can definitely be in a gym where you are in less contact.”
While the Asheville Police Department did show up at around 2 pm they didn’t shut Sharpe down but were told to “document” what was going on. So Sharpe figured he’d made his point and shut down about an hour later with people still knocking on his doors to get in after he locked them. He said he would comply with the order to remain shut until the governor says he can open.
FULL DISCLOSURE: The reporter of this article and Mr. Sharpe went to high school together.