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As many worry COVID-19 will spike again, some gyms in West Michigan open, defying order

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FitStop24 in Niles and Dowagiac is open, despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order to stay closed. The owner said he's defying the order because he doesn't agree with it. He said he thinks gyms should've been deemed essential. (WWMT/Callie Rainey)

Despite some people saying they feared COVID-19 would spike again in Michigan, some gyms in West Michigan defied Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order to stay closed.

Gary Marshall, owner of FitStop24 in Niles and Dowagiac, has been reopened since the beginning of June, and Strength Beyond in Kalamazoo has been opened since a few days before June 25, according to owner Aaron DiPrima.

In a written statement, DiPrima said he opened a couple days before a federal judge said gyms could reopen. Then, when a federal court of appeals overruled that decision, DiPrima said he decided to stay open anyway.

"I didn't intend to operate in violation. In response, I shut my billing back down. I am keeping the doors open as a free service to our members and to keep the staff working rather than close and reopen again in a few days when mandates are lifted," said DiPrima.

DiPrima said all necessary safety precautions advised by the state were being taken at Strength Beyond, but the state said gyms outside of the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan needed to stay closed.

Marshall said there were several safety measures being taken at FitStop24 in Niles and Dowagiac, including a schedule of when people worked out in the event someone tested positive for COVID-19, contact tracing would be more easily done.

"I’d love to invite her [Gov. Gretchen Whitmer] to the facility so she can check it out," said Marshall. "We can compare bars and gyms if she’d like.”

Marshall said it didn't make sense to him that bars could open, but gyms couldn't. He said it was much easier to enforce social distancing at gyms than bars.

"The people coming in here are the people that need it. The people that need to come to the gym and work out because it makes them feel better," said Marshall.

He said Whitmer should have ordered gyms essential for people's health.

"People make bad decisions all the time," said Marshall. "Unfortunately, our governor is making a bad decision. She is effecting my personal livelihood. She’s effecting my communities health, their mental health and physical health right now.”

Marshall said he had been fined $500 a day since he reopened in early June, and reopening had cost him more than staying closed. He said it was worth it, and said he believed it was the right thing to do, despite the number of cases increasing in recent days.

Follow Callie Rainey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Email tips to crainey@sbgtv.com.