BELLMAWR — Police blocked off the entrance to the shopping center where a gym planned to open Monday morning in defiance of Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order closing businesses deemed non-essential.

Co-owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti said they would open the Atilis Gym in the Browning Square shopping plaza in Bellmawr on at 8 a.m. Monday at 20% capacity.  Smith told NBC Philadelphia the business is being "strangled to death" by being closed.

People lined up outside the Atilis Gym in the Browning Square shopping plaza before dawn Monday, holding pro-Trump signs and American flags in support of the decision to open, according to tweets by Fox 29's Steve Keeley.

Police showed up around 7 a.m. with a public works crew and helped set up barrels to block the entrance to the shopping center as protesters chanted "Reopen New Jersey" and "Murphy's a tyrant," according to Keeley.

Other video posted by Facebook user  Michael Shapiro showed people on site chanting "we are not afraid" and "God bless Trump."

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According to a Fox 29 report, about two dozen members were let into the gym after having their temperature taken and being handed a copy of the gym’s new rules meant to limit capacity and encourage social distancing.

Bellmawr Police do not yet appear to have made any arrests as of 10:30 a.m., according to news reports and witness accounts.

John Daskas of Woolwich was one of those who made their way to Atalis on Monday morning. He said five Bellmawar police officers have been watching the crowd all morning and had not made any arrests as of a bit after 10 a.m. He said the first members of the gym who went in for a workout, whose temperature was taken as they entered, got a round of applause as they came out.

“In my opinion they’re taking a lot more precautions then lets say a Walmart or Target would in how many people they’re letting in and what they’re doing as far as sanitizing and making sure people are safe," he said. "They’re being pretty mindful of the individuals who are coming into the gym, which I can’t say of the stores I’ve gone into that are open."

Daskas, who said he is not a member of Atalis, said people want more than to just work out at their own gyms.

“We should open up small businesses. This is maybe making a statement that this is something other small businesses should be doing, taking a stand and opening up their businesses,” Daskas said.

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Ellie Rushing in a tweet just before 8 a.m. estimated 200 people were gathered in the parking lot.

Chris Lambert, the owner of another Alilis Gym in Little Egg Harbor, asked Smith and Trumbetti in a Facebook post on Sunday to delay their opening after he said he received a call from Gov. Phil Murphy's office to schedule a meeting on Monday.

"It was mentioned that it would be a positive show of good faith to have the scheduled opening of Atilis Gym, Bellmawr postponed for only 24 hours so that we can give this meeting a fair chance to succeed," Lambert wrote.

Trumbetti in a Facebook post rejected the call to wait and accused the other Atilis owners of backpedaling on their plan to open.

"WE stood side by side to go into battle, YOU lost your nerve and went back to the cattle, stop talking your s--t (profanity edited by New Jersey 101.5) because YOU know in the end if you were to go to battle you'd haven't a friend. WE have done all the work and weathered the storm what happens this morning could be the new norm. Bottom line is talk is cheap, never trust a politician, ( and that's what YOU are) we may be successful we may fail but we got his attention," Trumbetti wrote.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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