Sandy Duvall is laying down the law — her law. Duvall, the long-time owner of Sierra Health and Fitness in Sierra Madre, is not allowing unvaccinated people to enter her business. She tells KCRW that her vaccinate mandate is about safety, not discrimination.
“If you're not vaccinated, you can't enter our facility.” I owe it to all of my long-term clients that have kept us going and people who donated money to my trainers during all this time when we were shut down.”
Duvall says she’s especially concerned about many elderly and rehab patients at her facility. “We've got 80, 90-year-old people that are coming two, three, four times a week. Our goal is to keep these people healthy. “
Duvall thinks her 26-year-old boutique studio has been able to survive over the years because of its deep roots in the community. And to stop the coronavirus from upending her business, she began offering incentives to vaccinated patrons about eight months ago — way before the state began giving freebies.
“We have been on this journey for a long time,” recalls Duvall. She says her gym offered a free membership for one or two months to those who showed proof of vaccination. “A lot of people said, ‘Sure, here it is. Give me a free month.’”
But she says what she discovered while offering vaccination incentives left a bad taste in her mouth.
“There were a handful of people that we assumed were vaccinated. I'm not gonna say any names, but they're sheriffs or LAPD [officers] who were not vaccinated.”
After word spread of the fitness club’s mandate, Duvall has been receiving a lot of hate emails, mostly from outside Los Angeles County.
“People went on Yelp and gave me horrible reviews, saying that I discriminate. But they have never even been here. They don't live here. They're not even in California.”
Some social media users are taking one step further by alluding to legal consequences for the gym owner. “I have the crazies who are coming out of the woodwork,” recalls Duvall. “I got a very, very threatening email from somebody that doesn't live here, saying they would sue me and go after all my finances.”
Why is the small business owner resorting to the hardline approach? That’s because she says she’s tired of the pandemic’s prolonged impact on her business and her employees, and angry at people who won’t roll up their sleeves. While she understands her business policy has caused some controversy, she says she’s not backing down.
“Nobody's gonna scare me off because we cannot slide backwards. It's not good for our country, it's not good for the health and safety of everyone. If you don't want to get vaccinated, that's fine. But you're not going to come into my facility. It's just the way it is.”