Local gym opens against orders, sparks protest against Gov. Wolf


Mercer County is now in the "Yellow Phase" of reopening as of Friday, which means health and wellness facilities must remain closed

HERMITAGE, Pa. (WKBN) – One local fitness center is open for business, against the orders of Governor Tom Wolf. On Saturday, Hermitage police fined the business for the second day in a row.

“I have a choice. I either lose everything that I’ve worked for or take the citations,” said Joe Joseph, owner of P.R.E.P. Training and Fitness Systems in Hermitage.

On Saturday, about 15 people were inside the gym, which was still ordered to be closed until May 15.

Joseph says since utility companies are keeping utilities on, he has no choice but to open up.

“They’re telling me if I don’t pay the balance of my bill, they’re going to shut my lights off. So now I’m open for business because I don’t have any other source of income other than my life’s work here,” Joseph said.

Hermitage Police Chief Eric Jewel says the department will continue mailing multiple citations to the business each day it remains open.

If not paid in 30 days, Joseph could face jail time.

Jewel calls it a difficult situation, and says he encourages Joseph to talk with local lawmakers.

The citations sparked a protest against Governor Wolf to come to the gym.

“You can go across the street and shop at Giant Eagle and stand in line down the road at Home Depot and Lowe’s. There is nothing different than going to a gym,” said one protester.

“Let’s be smart. We’re all adults. Let’s practice social distancing, which we all can do,” said a gym-goer.

One long-time Hermitage resident did not want to be named in this story.

He says he chose to go to the gym for a physical and mental release he feels many people could use.

Joseph says he knows of five Pennsylvania counties who will not prosecute business owners for reopening.

“Our police force and our D.A. is choosing to do this. This is not something they have to do, it’s something they’re choosing to do,” said Joseph.

Joseph also says he isn’t afraid of his customers spreading COVID-19 due to rigorous safety procedures.

Mercer County is now in the “Yellow Phase” of reopening as of Friday.

The “Yellow Phase” prohibits large gatherings and indoor recreation, meaning health and wellness facilities must remain closed.

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