Business opened while on NY Pause

GLOVERSVILLE — Gyms remain one of the few businesses in the state that have not been permitted to reopen their doors following the state mandated closure of non-essential businesses due to the coronavirus. Despite the prohibition, a new mixed martial arts studio on South Main Street is now open and offering in-person classes to children and adults.

Kevin Rienhardt, a third-degree black belt, previously operated a mixed martial arts studio as the sole instructor first in Gloversville and later in Johnstown before a personal injury forced him to close his doors while he recovered.

Roughly a year and a half after his injury, Rienhardt watched and waited as coronavirus related restrictions forced the closures of non-essential businesses. As the state began moving towards a gradual reopening, Rienhardt said he began planning to reopen his mixed martial arts studio, Goju Ryu Ki, at a new location at 59 S. Main St.

“We went through the three-month quarantine, we waited until we started hearing about phases of opening up,” said Rienhardt on Wednesday. “We got our lease and we wanted to really get people back into getting into shape. I’ve had past students that were calling me saying when are you going to reopen.”

The martial arts studio that offers instruction for children starting at age three and up through adults began offering in-person classes at the gym on June 20.

“We went all the way to phase three, then the beginning of phase four when [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] said some stuff could start opening with social distancing,” said Rienhardt.

Gyms were originally to be included in the state’s fourth phase of reopening which the Mohawk Valley region entered on June 26, but Cuomo in a press conference a few days before any region entered the final of four announced stages of reopening stated that gyms, movie theaters and indoor malls would not yet be permitted to reopen while the state continued to study the impact of reopening these industries from coronavirus restrictions.

Indoor malls were finally approved to begin reopening on Friday in regions of the state that have entered phase four of reopening if property owners first install air filtration systems that are capable from removing virus particles from the air before it is recirculated through air conditioning systems.

The state so far has not provided any guidance on how or when gyms and movie theaters may be able to reopen.

When asked why he decided to open his business when gyms are not yet permitted to operate by the state, Rienhardt pointed to the easing of restrictions on gatherings to allow up to 50 people to come together with social distancing in place and the ability of stores and other recreational venues like beaches to operate.

“I would believe it’s right along the same lines of any other business,” said Rienhardt of his studio. “[And] to get us back open, get my students back training, get myself back training and give back to our community.”

Rienhardt said he has established best practices to reduce the possible transmission of the coronavirus following the guidelines under which gyms and martial arts studios in other states have been permitted to reopen. The studio offers classes in the afternoons and evenings six days a week, limited to a maximum of eight students per class with social distancing to be maintained. Sparring has been removed from the instructional curriculum for the time being.

Equipment is sanitized between classes with students to undergo temperature checks and questions to identify any possible exposure to the coronavirus, said Rienhardt. Students who are not feeling well are instructed to stay home.

“I believe in the safety of my students, that’s got to be number one priority,” said Rienhardt.

Rienhardt additionally stated that students are required to wear masks during classes, although videos posted on the Goju Ryu Ki Facebook page on June 22 showing a children’s class at the studio and on July 1 of an adult class show students and the instructor moving through exercises without face coverings.

In addition to in-person classes, Rienhardt also provides some instruction online via Zoom, but he pointed to the visual limitations of the format as being less than ideal for students looking to perfect their form and technique.

“Martial arts is somewhat physical learning, but it’s also by sight,” said Rienhardt. “Sometimes we see different things via video that you wouldn’t see actually taking a class.”

The martial arts instructor acknowledged the importance of taking steps to limit possible transmission of the coronavirus, while also pointing to the importance of physical fitness and the lessons students learn through martial arts in explaining his decision to reopen.

“For me martial arts is more now not so much about myself but giving what I learned to other students starting at the young age and on up to adult,” said Rienhardt. “I hope that my students take away the respect factor being number one, the knowledge that they’re receiving through the training to basically build them up, build their self-esteem, to give back to the community and to give a place for young adults to come for activity, we do base some of our classes on fun.”

As of Wednesday, Rienhardt said he had not received any communication from local officials regarding the reopening of his business amidst the continued restriction prohibiting the operation of gyms. A public grand opening of Goju Ryu Ki is scheduled at the studio today at 5 p.m.

Cuomo in issuing the executive order limiting the operations of businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus has repeatedly stated that local governments are required by law to enforce restrictions, pointing to the possibility that the reopening of regions of the state could be rolled back if localities do not ensure compliance with state mandates.

Additionally, the state Department of Health effective July 9 amended state health law to allow civil fines of up to $1,000 per day per violation to be levied against individuals for non-compliance with COVID-19 emergency regulations including social distancing mandates, the requirement that face coverings be worn in public spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained and the operation of businesses as directed by executive order. State and local government are authorized to enforce civil and criminal penalties related to the violation of these regulations.

Mayor Vincent DeSantis when contacted on Wednesday said he was unaware of the city receiving any complaints regarding the operation of the martial arts studio and after learning of the gym’s operation in non-compliance with state regulations, he planned to reach out to the business owner for further information.

“The first people I am going to discuss this with are the people who are running the business,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis when asked acknowledged the city’s responsibility to enforce restrictions related to the coronavirus, while noting that most businesses in the city have been compliant.

“From my point of view, it seems like our business people are really doing everything they can to comply and it’s paying off because we don’t have a high infection rate,” said DeSantis. “I know it’s inconvenient, I know people are tired of the restrictions, but unfortunately, it’s necessary. It’s not anything we want to do, but we have to do it.”

“It’s just something Mother Nature has brought to us and we have to deal with it,” he continued of the coronavirus. “It’s a matter of public safety, just like preventing fire is a matter of public safety, just like enforcing penal law is a matter of public safety.”


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