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A Weird NYC Law Created to Combat Brothels Is Hurting Gyms Today


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What does the term "physical culture establishment" mean to you? If you're someone who's worked out once or twice in your life, you probably know it better as "the gym." But in 1970s New York City, it was basically a nice way of saying "not a brothel." And as Crain's New York reports, the tricky permit that this distinction created, which fitness companies need to obtain to open new locations, has been a hindrance in their expansion.

A physical culture establishment permit is required for gyms, spas, massage parlors, your kid's martial arts studio, and several other businesses to operate—it basically says that the government vouches that illicit activity won't be going on here, something that it had to be on the lookout for back in the day. Looking at the rapidly growing fitness scene in the city these days, you might not have guessed that gyms have had any trouble, with places from Blink Fitness to Soulcycle multiplying all over. But as the business publication writes, "the process of obtaining a physical culture establishment permit can take nearly six months and cost up to $50,000 in fees and payments to lawyers."

"Truthfully, it is a real pain," said Bill Miller, Blink Fitness's vice president of real estate, to Crain's. "We are changing people's lives—literally—and you would think the city would want to get with the times, so to speak."

And in fact, the very person who had this law passed in 1978 might be the one to have it repealed. Carl Weisbrod argued to pass this measure when he was the director of the Midtown Enforcement Project, but now is looking into amending it based on a Department of Small Business Services report claiming that they're "needlessly burdensome" to fitness studios.

"This is an idea whose time has passed," said attorney Howard Goldman, who's become an expert on the matter. "It made sense when it was adopted, but back then the gym industry didn't really exist as it does now."