Florida Owner Opens Illegally, Convinces Vice Mayor to Back his Cause to Become Essential Service

May 6, 2020 by
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Last week, Mike Manning re-opened his doors at Harbor City Community Fitness in Melbourne, Fla., a 13-year affiliate.


Manning made the decision to defy Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order requesting gyms remain closed for one simple reason: “I want to be classified as an essential service,” he said.

  • “Because we are. We help people’s body’s move better. We help people improve their overall health. It’s not just about trying to have six-pack abs or beat your Fran time. It’s about health,” he added.

Not only did Manning open his doors, but he did so very publicly. He contacted various politicians and media outlets hoping it would draw attention to his cause.

  • “I wanted the attention. I wanted to say I was doing it in open defiance, because I knew we could do it well” he said.

It worked: Manning’s story was featured on multiple broadcasts and media publications in Florida.  He also sent a letter to the Governor explaining why his gym should be allowed to open: “We’re healthcare. We’re keeping people healthy and we’re capable of social distancing,” he said about the arguments he outlined in his letter.

Manning is adamant that even though he has defied the executive order, he takes the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, and has since the start. In fact, he closed his gym in March before he was legally required to, as it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

While his doors were closed, Manning cleaned his gym from top to bottom, created 15 well marked stations that are more than 10-feet apart from each other, and made sanitation caddies for athletes to bring to their stations with them, he explained. Then he polled his members to see if they were comfortable coming back and training with a maximum of four clients in the gym via semi-private training or one-on-one coaching. The vast majority said they were, Manning explained.

  • “I didn’t open up willy nilly. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Screw this, I’m going to open.’ I knew we could open safely. We’re not some kind of petri dish of germs, where people show up in packs and do aerobics in a small space. We were ready to go and we have a sensible plan,” he said.
  • “The government is letting people sit in restaurants again, go to Walmart and Home Depot. The supermarkets are full. It’s crazy that we were not allowed to open,” he added.
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Shape shifting in progress

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Getting the Vice Mayor on board: After Manning’s cause received some media attention, the Vice Mayor of the City of Melbourne Paul Alfrey, reached out.

  • “I explained our position and told him to come take a look at what we’re doing. He read my letter to the Governor and said he supported what we were doing. He even wrote a whole other letter backing our request to be deemed essential so we can re-open,” Manning said.

Alfrey also asked Manning to close shop again until a decision could be made. Manning agreed, and once again closed his doors on Saturday, May 2.

  • “I agreed to give them a fews days, but we’re running out (of time) quickly,” said Manning on Tuesday.
  • He added: “I want to see some progress soon. I don’t have a hard deadline. I’m not holding them hostage. I’m trying to work with them and give the political leadership some time to consider how this is affecting businesses unfairly. And obviously if there’s an outbreak (of COVID-19), I wouldn’t open, but if things remain as they are here, and I don’t hear back soon, I’ll open by the end of the week.”

Other gym owners ring in: Earlier this week, Manning was blasted on the CrossFit Affiliate Owners Only Forum on Facebook by a couple other gym owners when he posted about his position, even being called a dickhead on the thread.

  • “Do you understand the term essential and the context (and) time in which such a label is given matters? As in, during a pandemic, nurses and doctors are essential. Our boxes are not,” wrote Dennis Silverback Guerrero, the owner of CrossFit Jetty in Oceanside, N.Y.

Guerrero provided this analogy: “We are swimming instructors,” and when people are dying, lifeguards, not swimming instructors, are essential.

He later spoke with Morning Chalk Up.

  • “In my opinion, far too many members within the CrossFit community seem to be neglecting the advice being given by scientists and public health experts…If we wish to eventually overcome the outbreak and go back to some sort of normalcy, we ought to be listening to the experts in the room,” Guerrero said.

Greg Berube, the owner of CrossFit Skopos in Dundas, MN said he thinks opening against government orders has tarnished public perception of CrossFit affiliates.

  • “The rash of people choosing to open against mandates from local authorities has been an embarrassing spotlight on CrossFit gyms. Human life is more valuable than our businesses. Period. (And) opening our CrossFit gyms doors against mandates is not a representation of the health that we are supposed to be encouraging in our members and definitely doesn’t take into account the health of the communities we are part of,” he told Morning Chalk Up.

As for being an essential service, Berube added: “Our physical buildings are not essential. Our community and the fitness that we can provide in a multitude of ways during quarantine — programming, video classes, video one-on-one training — could definitely be seen as essential. The parts of our business that are essential have not been stopped.”

Support for Manning: Despite some criticism and accusations of being irresponsible, Manning said overall he has received a ton of support, both online and in person, from other business owners.

  • “Many more are on this side of the fence than what is being said. So many are afraid to speak up…We, in every way, should be considered essential, especially when we can control our environment as easily as a hospital can,” wrote Angela Gerry, the owner of CrossFit Spokane in Wa., on the Facebook forum.
  • “Large gyms without controlled environments might not be a good idea to have open, but a CrossFit gym where you can cap sizes, (where) you know who is coming in and out of your doors and on a personal level. It’s a much more controlled environment than the grocery store or retail shop that has been considered essential,” she told Morning Chalk Up.
  • “It is a much more essential business than any pot shop, liquor store, or fast food restaurant that is now open,” she added.

Curtis Romano, the owner of CrossFit Axon in Charlotte, N.C. is another affiliate owner in support of Manning’s cause.

  • “I 100 percent agree with Michael (Manning). The individual should be able to decide where they should and shouldn’t go. The NC phase 1 has vape shops opening and not gyms. This makes zero sense,” he wrote in the Facebook forum.

Continuing the fight: Manning’s fight to become an essential service isn’t just about being able to open his doors right now, he explained.

It’s about a larger quest to bridge the gap between the traditional medical model and health and fitness, so gyms like his start to be seen as preventative medicine on a large scale.

  • “I’m not doing it just to open up today or tomorrow. I want that (essential) designation and I want the fight to be public so people start perceiving what we do differently than the big box gym, where you just go in and do whatever you want,” Manning said.
  • “The high level of service we provide is necessary for public health. We’re helping people bring their blood pressure down, get their lung capacity up, put their diabetes in remission. I want to be able to work with doctors and physiotherapists. I have always supported the CrossFit Health initiative. That’s what I’m fighting for.”

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