The organizer a Facebook page for businesses planning to open on June 1 — even if Gov. Phil Murphy's orders shutting or restricting non-essential businesses remain in effect — says more than 100 gyms and 100 salons will take part.

It's not clear how locked-in that commitment from followers of the New Jersey Business Coalition Opening 6/1/2020 page, which has thousands of members, is. Organizer Tommy Trilivas, who owns Topshelf Fitness in Rockaway, declined to provide a list of participants, saying he hasn't compiled one and not all are eager to draw attention to themselves.

But many singled their interest in participating by answering "yes" in a post on the group's Facebook page about plans to all open together. At least several of those who answered appeared to be the owners of gyms or salons.

"We do not want to defy the governor's orders. We decided that the best way to do something would be to try our hardest to collaborate something together, come up with a safety protocol," Trilivas said. "We've contacted a few people in the group who actually own gyms who are lawyers and they suggested the same thing."

Murphy closed down both gyms and salons, declaring them "non-essential" during the COVID-19 public health emergency. He's said in recent interviews that while the state is beginning to loosen some restrictions on outdoor activity, it's harder to justify allowing people to be indoors in close quarters, as might happen at a salon.

But several have said they've got plans in place to limit unnecessary contact, and protect their patrons and staffs. That was also the case with a Bellmawr gym that made national headlines for opening up, but was ultimately closed back down under a health department order. The Bellmawr gym's owners say they plan to sue the Murphy administration to challenge its authority to shut businesses down.

Trilivas said he's trying to work out a plan with the the governor's office, to demonstrate gyms are both safe and essential. Trilivas said he was disappointed that Murphy himself wasn't on a call with the governor's staff, but said he's confident Chief of Staff George Helmy will relay the concerns of his group to Murphy.

Murphy's office has not yet returned a message from New Jersey 101.5 asking about the status of the group's plan.

Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti, co-owners of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, were part of the coalition but then "lost communication" and opened up on May 18. They have been cited several times by Bellmawr police and were hit with a lawsuit in Superior Court by state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli seeking a judge's order to keep the gym shut.

"As an American I support them for fighting for their rights," Trilivas said, adding that he had to look out for the best interests of the coalition. "Not everybody's looking to lead the cavalry. Not everybody wants to defy orders and run up against something."

But but if gyms are still closed on June 1, Trilivas said, 100 or so gyms will move ahead with plans to defy the governor's order. He said about 100 salons would do the same.

"We'll be forced to open because our backs is up against the wall," Trilivas said. "You try to do everything you can the right way and it doesn't work out there's nothing else you can do at that point, then either watch your business crumble and sit there and take it that way and try and figure out another way of making a living. Or, you have to defy an order and open up a a group on June 1."

He compared the situation to dangling off a bridge and holding on with one arm.

"Are you just going to let go and say the hell with it let me die or are you going to fight for your life?" Trilivas said

He hopes that new data from the CDC suggesting the novel coronavirus is not as transmittable via surfaces as originally will also bolster their case.

"This makes it a much easier argument for us to be able to become an essential business, or at least to be able to say that you have the trust in us that we're going to open up and do it safely," Trilivas said.

He said gym patrons will look to see gym owners are providing good customer service and safe environments before they'll return

Trilivas says he will give gym the "power and control" to clean their areas with a spray bottle of cleaner, sanitizer and disinfectant provided by the gym. His staff cleans the machines after every use and professional cleaners come in daily, he said.

Trilivas said he installed UV sterilizers in the air conditioning system and a professional fogging machine to disinfect the equipment during off hours.

"What other environment are you going to walk into right now and get that same kind of treatment? Nowhere," Trilivas said.

He said he wants to prove not just to political leaders, but to customers that his gym is safe.

"These are good people. Everybody wants to follow the law. Everybody wants to be heard and everybody wants to be treated fairly. That's all people want. They're not interested in being the rebel and defy(ing) orders and get on the news and start(ing) GoFundMes. No one's interested in that. They just want to make an honest living," Trivilas said.

Open NJ Now rally in Point Pleasant Beach
Open NJ Now rally in Point Pleasant Beach (Dennis Symons

As the group's deadline of June 1 approached quickly, several hundred people rallied in Point Pleasant Beach on Monday in an effort to get Murphy to lift his restrictions on non-essential businesses.

"The fallen died for freedom," "Make New Jersey great again open up," "Every business is essential" and "flatten the fear Free NJ" read some of the signs in the crowd at the Point Pleasant Beach municipal parking lot, as seen in pictures posted by the news site

Also present were many signs supportive of President Donald Trump, as attendees chanted "Open New Jersey now." Protesters appeared in pictures to be standing close together, and many were not wearing face coverings.

Point Pleasant Beach police did not respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for an official crowd size estimate or say how many violations of the governor's executive order may have been issued. Murphy on Friday issued an executive order allowing gatherings of 25 or less.

Republican state Sen. Joe Pennacchio from Morris County addressed the crowd and said that reopening businesses is a statewide issue.

"Those freedoms as we speak are being denied in the guise of public health. Next year it will be in the guise of terrorism, and years from now it will be in the guise of crime,"  Pennacchio said.

"We need to open our churches, our businesses, let our children graduate and return normalcy to our lives. Gov. Murphy, you took an oath to uphold the Constitution. Gov. Murphy let my people go," Pennacchio said to loud cheers and chants of "Jersey Joe."

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