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'We are essential': Spokane-area small gym owners form coalition to reopen

The Stronger Together Coalition is a group of small fitness facility owners adamant to work with Washington state's government to reopen.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash — Spokane-area gym owners are coming together to argue they are an essential business that should not be shut down. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has prohibited indoor operations for fitness facilities and gyms through at least Jan. 4. The restrictions hurt smaller operations such as Jaunessa Walsh's Farmgirlfit.

"When the second mandated closure came down, it felt really like being punched in the gut," Walsh said. "I's very much been a roller coaster of emotions since March."

Gyms have been a hot topic since the pandemic began, with many wondering if they are breeding grounds for coronavirus.

"For many people, this is their outlet," said Kevin Longmeier, owner of Dūrātus Strength and Conditioning. "It might be the healthiest coping mechanism they have as they're walking through a challenging time."

Walsh and Longmeier, in addition to multiple other gym owners, cofounded the Stronger Together Coalition. It is a group of small fitness facility owners adamant to work with the state government to reopen.

The group has also issued a Change.org petition with the message of deeming coach-led fitness as essential. It has garnered more than 690 signatures in three days.

"We can control distancing, we can control masking, we can control cleaning protocol," Longmeier said. "If we can manage that, then we're going to help slow the spread."

Longmeier said members of the coalition have more say in what their clients do because they are using the small group model. 

The other members of the coalition are leaders from Deliberate Strength, Empire Fitness, Rewired Fitness Co., Forward and CrossFit Spokane Valley. They say larger fitness centers have used a loophole to reopen as a wellness center, but they do not want to bend the rules. 

RELATED: Some Washington gyms are skirting COVID-19 restrictions, becoming ‘wellness centers’

In a letter sent to the Spokane Board of Health and every local and state politician with an accessible email, Spokane Together Coalition has pleaded its case and added letters of support from multiple Inland Northwest medical experts. 

"We are an essential business, we are providing an essential service, and we can reopen safely and with proper protocols in place that would actually be better for our community than staying closed," Walsh said. "We are essential."