PHOENIX - While some businesses in Arizona are slowly beginning to open, the fitness industry remains shut down.
When will gyms and healthclubs reopen in Arizona? We thought we had some blueprint when the governor lost that battle in court last week and there were supposed to be guidelines for when gyms could reopen, but it still hasn't happened.
Gyms and athletic clubs were ordered to "pause operations" back in late June, along with bars and theaters. But last month, the state laid out a set of protocols that those businesses needed to follow in order to reopen.
After several delays, the CEO of Mountainside Fitness, Tom Hatten, took the state to court. He argues that Arizona and Governor Doug Ducey haven't done enough to prove that gyms shouldn't be allowed to reopen.
Hatten isn't optimistic that he'll be allowed to open anytime soon.
John: Tom, you're not open today and it seems like the new guidelines that the governor was forced to give you haven't gotten you any closer to reopening.
Hatten: No, that is correct and it's been an everchanging set of protocols since the day we were closed on June 29.. the second time.. we've been desperately trying to understand first why we were closed, where's the evidence, which we also proved in court that there wasn't any evidence to prove that we should be closed. But then, if there's protocols, why do you keep changing your own protocols and you changed them every time you lost a ruling and now we're on our fourth set of protocols, which really doesn't give us any way to open again.
John: Tom, the way they've laid it out as I understand it, they've got COVID-19 benchmarks to allow you to reopen. Hospitalizations and case would have to go below 10% per 100,000 people. The last number we got from July 19, that's the most recent data, we're at 13.2%. You're 3.2% away from reaching the threshold where you could reopen. How long might that take? Do you have any idea?
Hatten: It's hard to know that will take when you have no control over the testing or the results. Or you have no proof on why we were closed in the first place. I think it really goes back to the basis of all this.. at what point do we need evidence from our governor, who works for all us, as to the evidence to close a business if we take them to court and we follow the judicial process and that proves out to say that there isn't any evidence.. why are we talking about state numbers? We should be open. Period.
John: So you feel that the original set of ideas on social distancing.. wear a mask, keep everybody six feet away from each other, wash hands.. all of that would be good enough in your mind to reopen safe enough.
Hatten: Well, not only in our mind, but we had that proven in court. We had three of the most word and nationally recognized hygienists state that. We also have the former director of the Arizona Department of Health, Will Humble, who hired Cara Christ state to that exact fact on July 22 protocols that the state themselves put up, yet after they lost that TRO, they changed those protocols.. after they lost their stay, they changed those protocols again. Why would they be interested in us opening up at all if they kept changing the protocols and they try to have a stay of that judge's ruling on August 4.
John: Tom, cut through all of this, what do you think is going on here. Is this now becoming a political battle of wills between you and the governor?
Hatten: Well, I think it must be because there isn't any evidence to prove and that's the part that's really disheartening.. I spent 30 years building this company to watch it be taken away and this case, the second time for a "pause." Last week, the governor was supposed to speak to us regarding the two week update. He was nowhere to be found. He was actually supposed to speak to everyone regarding the Arizona schools and was nowhere to be found, except the White House. Yeah, I do think this has changed and sitting here as a citizen of Arizona and a small business owner to watch his company.. in this whole industry be taken apart and annihilated in 90 days without proof is extremely disheartening.
John: Do you think there's a case to be made that maybe you guys can open safely, but maybe still bars are a tough one because of people clustering in tight groups. Do you think there's a difference there or do you see it as a business versus government?
Hatten: No, I do think there's a difference and it's hard for me to speak to a different business because that is very difficult and they're all going through their individual miseries for being closed down. I do think the industries.. several industries are different, certainly different in the movie theaters or water parks. There's such an arbitrary nature of things that are closed. We talk about the water parks are closed, yet you know the Wolf Lodge, which is an indoor park, is open. Certainly trampoline parks and main events are still open and we have 4,166 restaurants that have bars in them that are still open so I think everybody has to kind of deal with it, but for us, we feel like we absolutely can handle our business. We were handling it and we've proven that it was safe as far as the other industries, I think that's what they'll have to tackle on their own time.
John: Tom, I've talked to other gym owners. I've got a couple friends in this business actually and they keep telling me the same thing. They say they cannot get good, clear information from the governor's office. I'm heairng this a lot from people in this business.
Hatten: Yeah, I think that's just factually true. I mean you can go through and we sent all the back up to the lack of communication. Obviously the changing of the goal posts with all the different protocols.. he's certainly after every time they lose.. they had every intention of happening yesterday and making that happen and make it extremely difficult under the EEO powers to do it and then not communicating to everybody for it being it's just been to be honest with you, just been insane to be able to try to figure this out.
John: You've been open, then you were closed, you reopen briefly, you got closed down again on June 29. Tom, how long can someone like you who's got a business going.. how much more of this can you handle?
Hatten: We're right at the end and I think I speak for all of us small business owners, whether it's health clubs or just in general, with the nature of the use of this power and what's being under the guise of coronavirus, we certainly understand the serious nature of it, but we all have to be allowed to move forward together, which is all we've been saying in the first place. And the simple fact is that this is unsustainable and it's not just for us, it's certainly landlords, certainly small businesses that are tied to us.. all the people that supply us. It's very disheartening and no we're not built for a second "pause." This is longer than a pause - a week is a pause. Months and months. Nobody is set up to function that way.
John: Tom, have you thought about just saying to heck with it, we're going to reopen and see what happens? Have you thought about it?
Hatten: Well, absolutely. I know we did that before and I stated that we would follow the judge's ruling which is what we did and we went through the judicial process. We did what our constitutional process says that we should do and what we should believe in and now they have it changed and changed and manipulated is beyond unbelievable at this point so, sure I mean 30 years in the making and not only just for Mountainside, btut certainly is an industry for all of us in our small business to try to function forward and go. We're not just going to let it die on the vine without proof or true leadership and it's just not going to be functional, so I would say all options are on the table right now.