VALATIE — ClubLife Health & Fitness held a rally Monday to reopen small businesses.
ClubLife Owner Alex Rosenstrach put out the call on Facebook on Saturday after reopening the gym’s concession stand last week. ClubLife offered its selection of shakes free to first responders.
“I can’t even describe to you the overwhelming amount of support we got,” Rosenstrach said.
Approximately 20 people showed up to support Rosenstrach, many of them wearing masks or having them in hand while songs like “God Bless the U.S.A.” and “This Land is Your Land” played over the sound system.
Rosenstrach said businesses could have set up booths outside, but the rain most likely deterred them.
Inside ClubLife, every other machine was taped off to encourage those working out to keep their distance from each other. Rosenstrach’s 6th grade daughter, Ariana, made signs asking people to maintain a six-foot distance.
“We’re just going to ask people not to be next to each other on the machine, wait until there’s at least a machine’s distance between you, something like that,” Rosenstrach said.
He said the staff has always been big on keeping the gym clean, and there are wipes, gloves and hand sanitizer available to guests.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a gym that’s cleaner,” Rosenstrach said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Forward New York, a plan that says once regions meet the criteria to re-open, a four-phase plan can commence.
Recreational businesses, like gyms, are in Phase Four.
“There’s no way we could recover from that,” Rosenstrach said. “Businesses can prepare for a rainy day, absolutely, but a random shutdown for three months? That’s unheard of.”
As of May 10, Columbia County has had 326 residents test positive for COVID-19 and 127 recover.
Doug Esmond, from Albany, said this part of the state has seen declining numbers lately, aside from nursing homes, which he said Cuomo has completely mismanaged.
Of the 199 active cases, 154 are from area nursing homes Barnwell, Pine Haven and Livingston Hills.
As a musician, one of Esmond’s regular gigs is at a church, which has moved to online services.
“It’s not church,” Esmond said. “It’s not OK. It’s not congregating together, it’s isolating. What’s church about?” Esmond said when the closures started happening, he had older congregation members in tears, heartbroken over having their social circles suspended indefinitely.
“This is like a bad flu season, not even a bad flu season, in my opinion,” Esmond said. “And by the way, what happened to the flu?”
He has been trying to teach music lessons online, but is looking forward to summer shows he usually plays for in Washington Park.
Dennis Connelly, an independent jeweler from Albany, said he knows two people who had COVID-19 and have passed away.
“People are hurting,” Connelly said. “New York state is not the same as New York City ... It’s different upstate. How can I not be essential if I’m the breadwinner in my family?”
Connelly, whose luxury jewelry business is in Phase Three of the reopening plan, said if businesses can abide by social distancing, they should be able to open. He also noted that the state is not getting nearly as much sales tax with so many businesses closed.
“Why are all the big-box stores allowed to be open, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s?” Connelly asked. “The country is run on small business, over 50% of our GDP.”
Connelly said his business cannot be conducted online.
“You can’t. People want to touch it, feel it, see it. It’s emotion,” Connelly said. “Your hands are tied to make a living.”
Connelly has considered opening by appointment only or using Plexiglas shields like some grocery stores have.
“It might not sound humane, but the reality is that the percentage of deaths in severe hospital respirators is all going down,” Connelly said. “We can be smart and open again.”
ClubLife members David Newkirk and his nephew Jake Kirkpatrick, competitive powerlifters from Nassau, have been working out in a garage, which is also inhabited by chickens.
“I think the people that are healthy should be able to get out and do what they have to do,” Newkirk said. “It becomes an emotional addiction, you have to do it. You start going crazy sitting at home doing nothing.”
Newkirk said it’s hard to buy weights online right now because of price gouging.
“Sometimes you need a break, but it gets to the point where you want to continue to be healthy,” Kirkpatrick said, adding that Rosenstrach has become family over the years.
Seth Gazzola, of Claverack, said he’s ready to safely get back to work.
“It’s important to stay clean... but at some point, this whole people sitting around doing nothing, it’s unsustainable,” Gazzola said.
Dan Ronsani, of Claverack, said engaging in physical activity would allow immune systems to be boosted, even just as something to look forward to in the day.
“The government doesn’t have the right to tell an individual who’s being safe what their decision is,” Ronsani said.
Gazzola agreed, saying if employees accept the risk by going back to work and the customer accepts the risk by visiting, it should be their decision.
“You can live in fear and isolation,” Joe Ronsani, of Claverack, said. “I’m not going to criticize someone who decides to live in fear and isolation, or just isolation, but I have rights and I want to be able to enjoy them and express them.”
Although he had heard of complaints being made, Rosenstrach said the Sheriff’s Office had not reached out to him as of noon Monday about the gym reopening.
No enforcement agencies were present to investigate the rally, and the Sheriff’s Department and the state police could not be reached for comment.
Abby Hoover is a reporter for the Register-Star. Contact her at email@example.com.