A Concord Sportscenter gym is at the center of a second COVID-19 controversy in less than a year as a local mother has called on the business to cancel or freeze her membership until management can make it a more safe environment for her and her family.
When Christina Smith moved with her husband and 5-year-old son from Huntersville to Concord in August 2020, she knew there would be a small cultural gap between the Mecklenburg County suburb she left behind and the more conservative city she had moved to just a few miles to the northeast in Cabarrus County.
Specifically, five months into a pandemic, she was aware that folks in Cabarrus were less likely to abide by COVID-19 guidelines such as wearing masks, even after enforcement was more strictly mandated by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 180 in November.
She didn’t mind; the 33-year-old Smith was just especially careful about where she went if she had to leave the house. Then after her husband signed the family up for a membership at the Sportscenter Fitness & Athletic Club in Concord last November, it quickly became clear that it wasn’t the safe environment they had seen advertised online.
“It was almost like going into another time zone, honestly, it was like coronavirus was not a thing,” Smith tells Queen City Nerve. “People gathering in crowds, no masks, employees weren’t wearing masks … It was just blatantly obvious that they had an overall vibe of, ‘It’s up to you.’ We of course wear masks, but the way it works is that everybody needs to wear them.”
Smith says she brought her son there about five times, each time only using the pool as she was too put off to go near the recreational equipment or any other parts of the facility where people gathered. Pictures Smith took inside the gym showed staff members not wearing masks, including those greeting customers at the front desk.
In January, she called the complex and asked if she could cancel her $140-a-month membership because she felt unsafe. She spoke to a member of management named Josh, she says.
“He was nice, but he was like, ‘Look you signed on for a year membership, there’s nothing we can do.’ I said, ‘OK, it’s just, there’s a mask mandate order,’ and then he went down the road of they were privately owned, and that they felt that exceptions applied to them. I’m not a legal expert … but there were no exceptions that I understand applied to them from the executive order after reading it. Everybody has to adhere. It really just seemed like they were doing their own thing.”
Smith was told she could not cancel nor freeze her account. In a later call, a man named Aaron implied Smith wanted to cancel due to a “lack of motivation,” then informed her she could cancel if she paid the remaining 10 months of her one-year contract at a 10% discount, which would have well exceeded $1,000.
Calls and emails from Queen City Nerve to the Sportscenter Concord location went unreturned as of this story’s publication.
There has been a mask requirement in place in North Carolina since June, though November’s Executive Order 180 tightened enforcement of the mandate.
“It is still our best weapon in this fight,” Cooper said of the mandate at his Nov. 23 press conference announcing Executive Order 180. “Today’s executive order will further tighten the mandate making it clear that everyone needs to wear a mask whenever you are with someone you don’t live with. That means wearing a mask when you’re at home, with friends or family visiting, and it means a mask at work, at the gym, at the store, at school.”
The executive order required that any business with more than 15,000 square feet to post an employee near the entrance to ensure that occupancy limits are followed and anyone patronizing the establishment is masked. Sportscenter is well over 15,000 square feet, and on a recent afternoon, people walked freely in and out without masks.
The Concord Sportscenter made headlines in June 2020 when Concord Police cited Sportscenter owner Bruce Burchfield twice for violating the executive order then in place, which prohibited gyms from reopening at that time.
Police visited the gym twice on June 2, with Concord Police Chief Gary Gacey personally issuing a criminal summons during the second trip. On the following day, he issued a third verbal warning and a cease-and-desist letter to Burchfield.
According to Bethany Ledwell with the City of Concord, there have been no calls to law enforcement regarding COVID-19 restrictions at the location since the June incidents. Marcella Beam, chief community health officer with the Cabarrus Health Alliance, confirmed that no complaints involving the Concord Sportscenter had come in on the county’s health information line.
Smith says she has reported her experience to the Department of Justice Consumer Protection Branch, but doesn’t expect any results from that. In the meantime, she’ll continue paying her monthly fee while avoiding an establishment that she feels isn’t doing enough.
“I don’t do stuff like this often, this just feels wrong” she says, seemingly embarrassed at her own efforts for accountability. After all, she knew it might be a bit of a struggle when she moved to Concord. However, there was a point where she felt she needed to draw a line.
“We live in a very divided place, just the United States of America in general, but I can pick and choose what I want to do, and it’s not the establishments as much as it is the patrons,” she says. “At Sportscenter, it is the establishment … this one was just a different scenario.”
Become part of the Nerve: Get better connected and become a monthly donor to support our mission and join thousands of Charlotteans by subscribing to our email newsletter. If you’re looking for the arts in Charlotte, subscribe to the paper for the most in-depth coverage of our local scene.