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In a time when maintaining good health and a strong immune system are key to fighting the effects of COVID-19, the fitness industry should be viewed as essential. 

Instead, Athletic Republic Escape General Manager Jeff Valli said he’s had to struggle with a “bad reputation” and government mandates that limited his Mount Laurel facility’s ability to operate and cut off his income. 

“We are helping to strengthen not just [our clients’] confidence, but also their immune systems and help them try to fight the virus,” he said during a Jan. 11 New Jersey Business Coalition online town hall meeting. “So, for us, having gyms seen as almost like a breeding ground for COVID—we don’t think that’s true and we kinda see it as the complete opposite.” 

Nevertheless, Athletic Republic Escape was forced to shut down in the early days of the pandemic, an order which Valli said cut off the facility’s revenue entirely. And although they’ve since been allowed to reopen, the limited capacity mandate has, proportionately, led to limited revenue. 

“We’ve been tending to pay our employees first and then, whatever we have remaining, to pay our rent. We’ve only been able to pay about 5% of that rent since we reopened and now our landlord is coming to us threatening [to sue] for the back rent that we owe and the rent that we can’t pay in full,” he said. 

While grants have been made available for landlords to recover lost rent income, Valli said the frustrating thing for him has been not knowing whether that would have any effect on his business, or if his landlord was even able to secure that funding in the first place. 

“Some rent relief would be great, that’s the main thing we would like to see, as well as something in play for the landlords so we kinda know what assistance they’re receiving and how that would affect us,” he said. 

The New Jersey Business Coalition’s “State of New Jersey Business” online town hall provided an opportunity for business owners and coalition members to discuss the current and future needs of the business community. More than 150 people attended the virtual event, including a dozen state legislators and administration officials who were also on the call. 

To listen to Valli’s full presentation, click here.