Even as more relief promised, frustrated California gym owner says Gov. Newsom just doesn't get it

Governor Newsom is promising more financial relief for businesses struggling in the pandemic. 

At his Wednesday briefing, he floated an aid package crafted by legislators, including tax breaks, streamlined permits, hiring incentives, and new loan availability. 

Newsom also recalled his start as a small business owner, when he solicited 13 investors to open his first store with one employee. 

"I think it was Voltaire who said work solves life's great evils: boredom, vice and need," said Newsom. 

Such lofty sentiments may not resonate with shuttered business owners.

"When he says things like that, it makes me furious, because he has always been a very rich man," said Adam Kovacs, owner of a fitness company in the North Bay. 

Wednesday, as the governor spoke, Kovacs was in meetings trying to restructure debt and renegotiate leases on his three Sonoma Fit gyms.

"Newsom does not understand, he does not," fumed Kovacs. "I'm an immigrant and I worked very very hard to get here, and little by little I'm losing everything that I built." 

Kovacs is especially disheartened about his newest facility in Novato.

"I think about it, I dream about it, I have nightmares about it," he said, of the new 20,000-square-foot gym he opened in late February, two years in the making.

COVID-19 closed it three weeks later.  

"On opening day, we had 1,300 members enrolled in Novato and I now have 400 left," said Kovacs, who is getting new cancellations daily. "I'm closed, so would you pay me 100 dollars a month if you can't access the facility?"

When Marin County public health rules eased to allow outdoor activity, he began offering fitness classes in the parking lot, but they do not attract the same attendance as a workout facility. 

Kovacs' two other gyms, in Petaluma and Sonoma, also operate outdoors and had a brief window of indoor exercise when Sonoma County temporarily allowed it.  

Those established locations qualified for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, but not the new facility. 

A dennial letter from California's Small Business Administration states "there is an arbitrary cut-off date" and as it turned out, the Novato gym opened one month too late to qualify. 

"Even though we had been permitted and hiring and training staff well for months before," said a frustrated Kovacs. "There's nothing, no help on a federal level, no help on a local level, no help on a state level, that's for sure."

Kovac's views are at odds with the Governor's stated support for entrepreneurs. 

"We support our small businesses, we support those who take risks and put everything on the line," Newsom said Wednesday. 

He spent the bulk of his briefing touting his economic efforts and thanked his recovery task force, 100 members strong, including some prominent CEOs.

"It's a remarkable group that represents true diversity," said Newsom. 

And he held out the promise of more financial aid. 

"We've created a new small business loan targeting minority and women-owned businesses."

Newsom also insisted the best economic recovery tool will be bending the curve of the pandemic.

"Businesses can't thrive in a world that's failing," he noted. 

But with no end to closures, his words rang hollow for business owner Kovacs. 

"How much do future tax breaks help me if I'm out of business tomorrow?" he challenged.

Sonoma Fit had 150 employees prior to the pandemic, and monthly rents totaling $110,000.

Loans that must be re-paid will drive up operating costs later, said Kovacs, and he can only charge so much for a gym membership. 

The solution as he sees it: let businesses operate, with precautions, and based on actual risk and known COVID hot spots. 

"I believe in the science: we wear a mask, we social distance, we exercise, we stay healthy, open up today." 

Until then?

"The government isn't helping us, we get nothing," declared Kovacs, "and it's a nightmare."