Life Upended: In fight to survive, gym owner launches auto business

Life Upended. The coronavirus outbreak has had a devastating impact on our nation, and it has touched Staten Islanders in countless ways. In this series, reporter Tracey Porpora will share the stories of those who have been thrust into situations that were unimaginable just a few months ago — those who have seen their life completely upended. This is the fourteenth story of “Life Upended.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — In March, Carlo Lasorsa, 40, co-owner of Intoxx Fitness, which has three Staten Island locations, said he felt like he was “robbed.”

Robbed of the business he loved to go to every day. Robbed of his ability to see the people he has grown to care for every day. And robbed of his livelihood.

“It was a shock. We thought it was going to be temporary. We had no idea this would go longer than two weeks,” he said of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. “We tried to be positive with the situation that was handed to us. As time went on, we started to see the reality of the situation.”

Since March, his three fitness studios in Tottenville, Oakwood and Grasmere, which have a more than 20-year history on Staten Island, have been shuttered.

“My partners and I have felt helpless. You have a multi-million dollar company and all of a sudden it was taken from us,” said Lasorsa, the father of a 10-year-old. “It’s tough. It’s been a heartache. And we love our community. We are usually embedded in the community on a daily basis. We have thousands of customers and to not see them is different. Life is different.”

Intoxx Fitness was also one of 1,500 fitness facilities across the state that has joined a class action lawsuit filed in Jefferson County, N.Y., against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York state and the state attorney general.

And even when Cuomo announced a reopening plan for gyms last week, Lasorsa’s hopes for a speedy return to business were crushed after Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would not allow gyms to reopen until at least Sept. 2 due to the need for inspections.

So Sept. 2 is the date Lasorsa and his three partners — Michael Giliotti, Rosario DiBerardo and Bruce Daniele — are shooting for to reopen their three fitness clubs.

“Throughout this, we [he and his partners] have been dipping into our savings just to be able to keep the gyms open [post pandemic]. Our landlords have been working with us, but they can only do so much. At the end of the day, how much can a business do to hold on?” said Lasorsa.

And even with the promise of reopening, it’s going to take a long time for Lasorsa to recoup his losses. That’s why amid the pandemic he decided to launch a new business — one that was deemed essential during the crisis.

LEARNING THE ROPES

In early August, he opened a new No Limits Auto Body at 287 Maple Pkwy. in Mariners Harbor with the help of his family members (including his cousin Anthony Occhipinti), who also own other auto body shops under the same umbrella.

“My family knew I was down and out, and they extended their hand,” said Lasorsa. “I learned a business that is pretty awesome and needed. … But I feel like I went from a CEO to a secretary. I had to start again from the bottom and learn the ropes.”

“In our first weeks in business, we have definitely taken off,” added Lasorsa. “We started with zero cars and we ended with about 40 cars for the month.”

Since opening, he said his earnings from the auto body shop have “helped put food on table, for himself, his son and his fiancée.”

And while the impact of the pandemic has been mostly negative, he said he has also found a “bright side.”

“As bummed as I have been, I’ve spent the best time with my son during the last few months than probably the last seven years,” said Lasorsa. “I’ve been doing things with my kid for hours that in the past I would have only done for an hour.”

GETTING READY TO OPEN

Since Intoxx was shuttered, Lasorsa and his partners have been inside the facilities getting them ready for reopening.

“Now we are just putting it into high gear so we can be prepped for reopening. … People will be using every other machine. …I have a strategy to reduce the capacity in the clubs,” he said, noting he may use last names as guide for when people can use the facilities.

Intoxx Fitness gyms are all about 15,000 square feet and include everything from CrossFit to kickboxing classes. And each gym has an array of equipment, from treadmills to free weights.

“We offer everything. It’s a one-stop shop,” he said.

“Since we opened 23 years ago — formerly as Dolphin Fitness — we have competed with and succeeded against every box chain fitness facility. We are not going to let COVID ruin us,” said Lasorsa. “We are going to get our clubs back and better than they were before.”

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