MORRISTOWN, NJ – Morristown gym owner Matt Scarfo is experiencing something many local business owners have felt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic: the loss of his business despite all efforts to save it.
After months of uncertainty, attempts from supportive community members to raise money, and the governor’s go-ahead to reopen, Scarfo announced last week that his business, Full-Time Fitness, would be closing for good.
“Six months is a terribly long time for any small business to hold its breath,” Scarfo wrote in a letter to patrons announcing the closure. “The fact that we held on for this long is just as much a miracle as it is a curse.”
Scarfo, who has run Full-Time Fitness for nearly 10 years, met with his building manager just days before the governor’s announcement that gyms would be allowed to reopen. Unfortunately, he said, that wouldn’t have been enough.
“There was no way I was going to be able to pay him back, that’s it,” he said. “It’s over.”
Since March, the gym had accumulated more than $70,000 in debt, and despite starting taking on personal training clients in July, the business had not been able to make significant gains toward paying off that debt.
“The free government money available for businesses like FTF has been wholly insufficient in making any impact on our obligations, and the brutal truth is I’ll never be able to pay that back while providing for my family,” Scarfo wrote in the letter.
In an unfortunate and ironic twist of fate, Scarfo had spent the spring doing long-distance running in support of and to raise awareness for small businesses who were struggling amidst the pandemic. On May 23, he began running to Washington, D.C., a 250-mile run that took about nine days – a marathon per day.
“Since I can run and like to do crazy endurance things like that, I figured that it would be a really good way to bring attention to the fact that people out there are suffering not only financially, but emotionally, and I thought it would be a good way to bring attention to us as businesses owners,” he said. “I learned more about myself in those nine days than I did in the 40 years before.”
When Scarfo reached D.C., he found businesses boarding up, protecting themselves from riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
“I started seeing businesses with shattered windows, ones that had clearly been looted, and it added an interesting perspective for me,” he said. “I’m running down there for the plight of small businesses and families up here, and there’s nothing that we can do about it up here except wait until we get that news. It was almost as if they were preparing for a hurricane that didn’t have to come.”
That experience compelled Scarfo to consider the impact on businesses not just locally, but across the country, he said.
After announcing the gym’s closure, he received hundreds of emails from customers, friends, family and even people who he never met, sending messages of support.
“The support has been humbling to say the least,” he said. “The New Jersey community at large, when they see somebody going through a tough time, especially in the current day, it’s so reassuring to see that people will literally go out their way to circle their wagon around you and make sure you at least have an emotional support from a stranger that you’ve never met.”
The community had shown its support earlier in the year, creating a GoFundMe page to raise funds to support the gym while it was shuttered. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
For businesses out there, especially gyms and restaurants considering reopening for indoor dining, Scarfo said it’s important to understand that there is that amount of community support out there for them.
“People want to help, not just to be a shoulder to lean on or an ear to be bent,” he said. “There’s so many people out there who want to help who just need to know who to help and how to help.”
As for what’s next, Scarfo said he does not know.
“Most people have an event in their life that is either the time that they’re going to shine or the time that they’re going to succumb to all of the stresses and all of the problems that are around them,” he said. “I’m an eternal optimist and I know that I’ve got all of the important stuff. My kids are healthy, my wife is a great woman and is very supportive, and we’ve got a very supportive family and apparently a very supportive community.”
“I know I’ve got my feet on the ground, I just don’t know where up is from here,” he said.
This article originally appeared on the Morristown Patch