‘This is really about survival.’ Gym owner re-opens despite state order

Muscleworx Fitness owner said he re-opened the gym out of financial necessity.
Muscleworx Fitness owner said he re-opened the gym out of financial necessity.(Michael Pelzer | WECT)
Updated: Apr. 30, 2020 at 2:43 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - A state stay-at-home order remains in place in North Carolina until at least May 8, but customers showed up when the doors opened at Muscleworx Fitness at 6 a.m. Thursday. Gym owner Jason Morgan said he is defying the state order out of financial necessity.

“What this has done to me financially is basically, it’s wiped out any savings that I’ve had. It’s put me in dire straits of losing the business that I’ve spent half of my life building.... It’s taken me 25 years to build this business and it’s my career,” Morgan said, while about a dozen members worked out on the equipment in his fitness center on Carolina Beach Road.

Christine Cruss is a new member who joined this week, after learning the gym would be the first one in town to open.

“I need to come because I’m middle aged. I need to keep my strength up, I need to keep my weight down.... So weighing the risk of not going and coming - it’s a no brainer. I need to come. This is my health,” Cruss, a former personal trainer, said of her decision. "In my eyes, [Morgan is] a hero for opening up for those of us who need to be here.”

Morgan said he wasn’t trying to make any kind of political statement by opening for business again, weeks ahead of phase two, when gyms will tentatively be allowed to open under Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order. Instead, he said he was simply trying to survive.

"People think that business owners just have money, and that’s not the case. A lot of us live paycheck to paycheck just like everybody else, and we just took a chance on a dream,” Morgan explained.

Morgan has the support of attorney Barry Henline, who also happens to be a member of his gym. Henline said Cooper’s executive order prohibiting Morgan from practicing his craft is unconstitutional.

“You have to provide [business owners] a due process right once you take their property away, and that is what is not being provided,” Henline explained.

Henline is prepared to defend Morgan if he is cited by law enforcement for re-opening his gym, and added that he got angry when he read reports Wednesday about a tattoo parlor owner being arrested in Apex for re-opening despite the governor’s order.

“The courts have consistently said you can’t take without compensating," Henline explained of the predicament for business owners across the state. "Mr. Morgan has applied for every single thing he can apply for and has received not one single dollar from the government.”

“We are all responsible for our own demise or our own blessings, and we don’t need the government to control every area of our lives, because sometimes the government may have the best of intentions and it brings out the worst results," Henline said.

Morgan was taking customers temperatures as they arrived, and had hand sanitizer available throughout the gym in an effort to keep his members safe, but said he did not think the number of COVID-19 cases locally justified the extreme measures being taken.

"We’re really being as precautious as we can, and we’re not forcing anybody to come,” Henline added.

He’s gotten calls from news outlets across the state, and was also contacted by a French economic reporter based in New York, all interested in doing stories about his decision to re-open.

“I wasn’t expecting to get the recognition that I’ve gotten from this. That was not what this was about. This is really about survival. But if somebody’s got to step out front and be first, I’m happy to be the one to do it,” Morgan said.

The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said they were responding to complaints about violations of the state order on a case by case basis, and at last check, no one had complained about Muscleworx Fitness.

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