Petaluma gym owner creates outdoor deck to survive during COVID-19, but says his American dream is 'gone'

PETALUMA, Calif. (KGO) -- For workout junkies, it seemed a sight for sore eyes.

In a COVID-19 world where most gyms remain closed, ABC7's Wayne Freedman found one in Petaluma with straining, sweating people outdoors.

A success story?

"People drive down the road, say 'look, they're open!'" said owner Adam Kovacs, almost mockingly. "They just don't know."

They haven't seen the empty workout room inside, where music blares from speakers with only empty machines to listen. Adam Kovacs owns three Sonoma Fit gyms.

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He has just about reached wits end.

"I am so in the red I don't know how much more I got. And the bills just keep coming," Kovacs said.

Since the pandemic hit, that workout room has opened for all of two weeks.


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In that time, membership in Adam's three gyms has dropped from 4,200 people to 2,700, and not just for fear of COVID-19.

"They say my life has changed. I lost my job. I am working at home. COVID-19 effects everything," said Kovacs.

Kovacs immigrated from Germany when he was 22-years-old and built his version of the American dream.

It succeeded until COVID-19 came along.

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The same innovative spirit that made him successful prompted him to fight back in Petaluma by creating a 7,000 square-foot deck outside his gym.

But while students count repetitions, staff members like Jennifer Palter count days. As in, how many more do they have?

"I don't know what we're going to do," she said. "Just keep adapting as best as we can but there is only so much we can do before it's unsustainable."

Kovacs blames local, state and federal governments for an unforgivable absence of clarity in this crisis.

He is exasperated.

"It's a guessing game," he said. "Should I put in a deck? Not put in a deck? What is the right move? Because even our local officials don't know what will happen next. The government killed small businesses. They are punishing us, and for no good reason. These gyms can operate safely. Allow me to open!"

Frustrations of a small business owner, watching his American dream failing, and powerless to stop it.

"My American dream? It's gone. All of it. Everything that I have built," he said.

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