New Jersey gyms could soon be allowed to serve more customers, Gov. Phil Murphy suggested this week.

Murphy on Friday continued to tease a fuller reopening of fitness centers, which, along with indoor dining and theaters, are one of the few businesses that remain under the strictest restrictions. Current restrictions allow gyms to open only for scheduled one-on-one appointments.

The executive orders have pitted law enforcement and the administration against a small group of defiant businessmen, including the owners of a Bellmawr gym that has become a cause célèbre among opponents of the pandemic restrictions, which opinion polls show continue to enjoy majority support among residents.

In New York, officials are allowing gyms to begin to reopen starting Monday. New York City expects its gyms to start reopening Sept. 2.

Murphy on Friday hinted that New Jersey might soon have its own development on gyms but said that New York's decisions would not play a role.

"I think we are getting very close on some steps we can take and gyms will be on that list," he said. "I'm not sure we are going to be learning a lot from the New York experience. We make our decision based on the reality in the four walls of New Jersey."

State health officials have said that the activities and length of time that people spend in the confines of gyms, bars and restaurant makes these locations some of the most dangerous sites for spreading the virus.

The fierce opposition by gym owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti have resulted in their arrest and cost them more than $130,000 in fines and legal costs imposed by a Superior Court judge.

On Friday, U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta, a Republican facing Democratic incumbent Cory Booker in November, announced that Smith and Trumbetti had been named to his campaign's finance committee and that their gym would become an official campaign site, holding daily political rallies.

"Come join us every day from now until Election Day to join our political workout fundraisers and at the same time, exercise your First Amendment rights," Mehta said in a written statement.

Smith said the decision to become a rally site is "not about affiliation to a political party. This is about supporting somebody who has strongly supported small businesses and strongly supports the protection of our constitutional rights."

Murphy's executive orders restricting gatherings carve out exceptions for certain political and religious activities. The Atillis gym has already tried other dubious legal runarounds to remain open but failed, most recently attempting to reclassify their gym as a private membership organization, which the owners claimed would exempt them from health regulations.

Last week, the Borough Council revoked the gym's business license citing "their ongoing defiance" presenting "a significant safety issue for the residents of Bellmawr."

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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