- Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that Northern Virginia will not open until at least May 29.
- The decision will further delay the opening of Joseph and Margaret Strada’s Manassas Park business, Unleash’d Strength Gym.
- “We’re just completely baffled as to why they keep changing the narrative on us,” Margaret Strada told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Four days before Virginia was scheduled to begin reopening, gym owners Joseph and Margaret Strada were crushed to learn Northern Virginia’s lockdown had been extended.
The husband and wife own and operate Unleash’d Strength Gym in Manassas Park, an independent gym that specializes in strength training. But Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision Tuesday to extend Northern Virginia’s reopening during the coronavirus pandemic will likely prevent the Stradas from opening their gym for several more weeks.
Manassas Park is included in extended mandated lockdown, which will last until at least May 29. But gyms could be closed even beyond that date, since Phase I of Virginia’s reopening plan does not include indoor gyms.
“We won’t be opening for at least another two weeks after that,” 26-year-old Margaret Strada told the Daily Caller News Foundation Tuesday. “So we’re pretty pissed.”
Northam initially floated the idea that Northern Virginia is not ready to reopen from the COVID-19 prevention measures at a Monday press briefing where he said he had been speaking with Northern Virginia leaders regarding reopening.
“They are just as anxious as the rest of us …to ease these restrictions and return to normal,” Northam said.
“We’re just completely baffled as to why they keep changing the narrative on us,” Margaret Strada, questioning what Northam meant when he said Tuesday that businesses would remain closed “as long as it takes.”
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“What does that mean?” Margaret Strada said. “What is ‘it’? What is ‘as long as it takes’? This business can’t survive six months of a shutdown.”
The couple explained that they instituted social distancing measures and very strict cleaning protocols “from the get go” in order to keep their customers safe. Their gym members rallied to support the gym owners as state social distancing requirements began.
The Washington Post reported May 5 that 176 of the gym’s 198 members opted to continue paying their monthly bills to keep the gym on its feet.
“We were doing really well, it was just a slow and steady uptick until we had to close,” 28-year-old power lifter Joseph Strada said, noting that Unleash’d Strength opened in August, 2019 and is only 8 months old.
“We peaked at 210 members right before we closed. We’re down to just under 200 now,” he said.
But as Northam keeps pushing back the date that Northern Virginia businesses can reopen, some customers are finding that they cannot continue supporting Unleash’d Strength due to their own financial distress. The U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April while the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly report.
Joseph Strada said the gym receives several emails a week from patrons who have lost their jobs or are struggling financially and need to cancel their memberships.
“The longer the ambiguity continues, the more members we’re going to lose,” he said. “It’s just really, really frustrating. And like I said, as a community oriented gym, we’re not able to have that community centered atmosphere that is so central to what we do.”
“We take pride in the community feel at the gym,” he explained. “Very welcoming, group workouts, monthly events, etc. We’ve become friends with almost all our members and it’s a more intimate environment than your standard commercial gym.”
The Stradas joined with other Virginia gym owners who created a petition Sunday asking Northam to “OPEN VA’s Fitness Centers for our Mental & Physical Health.” The petition details precautions that gym owners plan to take if they are allowed to open up their businesses. The petition had gained more than 3,875 signatures by Tuesday evening.
The couple said they “absolutely” support measures to be cautious and reduce infections and exposure from the coronavirus. But there needs to be justification for such a complete lockdown, Joseph Strada said.
“And we are just not seeing it,” his wife added.
The couple noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted the importance of exercise during the pandemic.
“We are actively supporting health and wellbeing,” Margaret Strada said. “At a time such as this it seems as though we should definitely be able to be safely a part of this fight against COVID.”
“We’re an essential part of the economy,” her husband added.
Joesph Strada said that over a million Virginians rely on gyms for their physical and mental health benefits.
“Both of those are so important at this time,” he said. “We believe that we can uphold a level of cleanliness, sanitation, reducing exposure and risk, better than many other businesses that are open and operating.”
“We believe we are more essential than many businesses that are open and operating,” Joseph Strada said, adding that he and Margaret would like to reopen Unleash’d Strength, with precautions, “and provide safe and excellent service to our members and community during a very difficult time for everybody.”
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