Open for business

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/13/21

HONESDALE, PA — For many businesses throughout Pennsylvania, last weekend marked the first one back at work since the state lifted its COVID-19 restrictions. But for others included in the …

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Open for business

Posted

HONESDALE, PA — For many businesses throughout Pennsylvania, last weekend marked the first one back at work since the state lifted its COVID-19 restrictions. But for others included in the temporary shut-down order, it was about the same as usual, because they never closed in the first place.

With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in Pennsylvania ahead of end-of-the-year holidays, expected only to make things worse, Gov. Tom Wolf put the commonwealth “on pause” from December 12 through January 4. All indoor dining at restaurants and bars was prohibited, indoor operations at gyms and recreation centers were put on hold as well, entertainment centers like movie theaters and concert venues couldn’t operate inside, and tighter size gathering limits were temporarily instituted.

Mike Crum, owner of Designer Bodyworks in Honesdale, PA, said that when the pandemic first hit in the spring of 2020, his gym complied with all of the state’s shut down orders.

“The initial part of the pandemic... they were talking about rolling out tanks and setting up tents with body bags, we didn’t know what we were doing, they were literally talking Armageddon kind of stuff,” Crum said. “So of course in the beginning, we were forced to close.”

But as the months passed, and larger businesses deemed life-sustaining were permitted to reopen while Crum’s gym had to remain closed, he started questioning things.

Per the governor’s “red, yellow and green” phased reopening plan, gyms were among the last on the list to see the light of day. In Wayne County, they didn’t get the go-ahead to unlock their doors until the middle of June. Even then, only half-capacity was allowed.

“The restrictions... definitely hurt the business; even right now, we’re operating about 60 percent of our normal household members,” Crum said. “It’s okay, but it’s definitely not enough.”

So in December when Crum heard that he was being mandated to close his business once again, he simply answered “no.”

“We didn’t shut down this time,” he said matter-of-factly. “Financially, if I would have done that—not for nothing—we’re talking about losing the whole business, and if I lose the business, I have no way to pay for my home, my vehicles... I lose shelter for my family and my kids.”

He said that, for him and his wife, who also works at the gym, the business represents their sole income.

Crum also adamantly maintains that his establishment is far cleaner than any of the big box stores like Home Depot or Walmart, about which he’s still miffed they were allowed to keep operating while he technically could not.

As River Reporter has covered in the past with regard to mask-wearing requirements and travel restrictions, the PA Department of Health’s enforcement of its restrictions has always been something of a gray area. It seems this latest effort was no different. Crum’s refusal to close in December did not invite anyone from the state coming round to issue any kind of fine or warning. He said all he saw was the usual stream of fitness enthusiasts, evidently unphased by the climbing case numbers.

Crum certainly isn’t alone. He named a number of other fitness centers in the area that didn’t close either. And statewide, gyms refusing to close was the subject of a Philadelphia Inquirer story in December.

Many businesses quietly remained open, doing so to solely sustain their businesses and not to thumb a nose at the state government. For others, it was a chance to do both, like one restaurant in Hawley that remained open through December and proudly posted a picture on social media of a violation placard it received from the Department of Agriculture. (The post garnered an outpouring of support and approval from followers.)

Now that the restrictions have been lifted, Crum said that there’s not a noticeable difference in the number of patrons coming through the door—still that 60 percent; the other 40 percent he guesses aren’t coming out of concern for the spreadability of the virus. For those that remain, Crum said, coming to the gym is an essential part of their mental health.

“People are here for their mentality, they’re not here for muscles... we actually lost a member of ours the first [go-round] to suicide from isolation and whatever else,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people came to me [in December] in tears asking if I’m going to close down again, and when I said no, it went from tears of fear to tears of joy.”

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