There has been no shortage of demonstrations in Berkeley to protest President Trump’s policies on immigration, the environment, and other hot-topic issues.
But so far, Berkeley doesn’t appear to be a center of protest of at least one anti-Trump effort — boycotts of the health and fitness businesses SoulCycle and Equinox.
These upscale gyms, each with one location in Berkeley, have been targeted nationally since the Washington Post reported earlier this month that their majority owner, wealthy New York real estate developer Stephen Ross, is a major Trump contributor.
Ross, who also owns the Miami Dolphins held a $250,000-a-seat fundraiser for President Trump last weekend at his home in the Hamptons. Ross is the chairman and founder of Related Companies, which houses his ventures, including SoulCycle and Equinox. Forbes places Ross’s net worth at $7.7 billion.
News of Ross’s Trump mega-donor status set off a fast-paced social-media campaign urging people to boycott SoulCycle and Equinox, to protest the President’s rhetoric and policies. Several celebrities jumped in, canceling their gym memberships and urging others to do the same, including model and author Chrissy Teigen and comedian and actor Billy Eichner.
Several organized protests occurred, including outside an Equinox in Los Angeles.
But the protests — if there have been any — have been muted in Berkeley.
One recent warm workday, the scenes outside the Equinox gym at 2600 Shattuck Ave. in downtown Berkeley, and SoulCycle, at 760 Hearst Ave., were peaceful, with a spattering of clients coming and going, dressed in summertime gym gear, toting water bottles.
One thing was clear: the majority of customers interviewed like their gyms, and have a hard time putting politics before this, even those who identified as being ardently against Trump. Many had made up their minds to stick with Equinox or SoulCycle. A few said they were trying to cancel their membership or planned to. Almost everyone interviewed was thoughtful and reflective, even over a short conversation. A couple were nervous, and said they couldn’t comment citing their jobs.
“I think Trump has his hands in so many things that we have tough choices to make,” said Cindy Davis, a retired educator from Oakland who works out at Equinox on a regular basis and loves the gym.
Davis said she’s definitely not a Trump supporter. “I’m a Green Party member,” she said. “My health is more important to me.” She added: “Anything that’s successful has dirty money in it.”
A 37-year-old Berkeley resident who didn’t want to provide her name said: “To stop coming would be kind of extreme to me. I don’t support Trump. I don’t want to support Trump.” She thought the protest campaign is helpful; “It brings awareness to what’s going on at these places. It’s important to know… It’s hard to know if you can have an impact.”
Her friend, a 36-year old, said: “Money is the biggest way to influence politics, unfortunately.”
Another Equinox customer said, “Oh yeah, I’ve already canceled my membership. I can’t talk because of my job.”
A man leaving the gym said he separates politics from his gym. “I think it’s the best gym in the area,” he said, echoing what many said this day. People inside were talking about the issue, he said. “There are a non-insignificant number of people who have expressed interest in leaving.”
One of those is Sarah S., a nursing graduate student from Oakland. She said she and her partner, also an Equinox member, really like the gym, but are uncomfortable with the political issue. She described her politics as progressive. “It’s bothersome,” she said. Her partner canceled his membership, she said, and she is trying to. The Trump-connection comes on top of concerns about the gym’s cost, she said.
Sarah, like a few others, said canceling could be complicated or pricy because memberships are for one year.
Anthony, 59, of Oakland, another non-Trump supporter, said he’d thought long about the situation. He also likes Equinox. “It’s a good gym,” he said, “and I hate Trump as much as anyone walking down the street.”
Anthony, like several others interviewed, doesn’t want gym staff to be hurt by a boycott.
“The young people working here, the trainers, have nothing to do with this. It’s the money bags in New York. “Go protest at [Steve Ross’s] house, that’s what I suggest.”
Over at SoulCycle, which offers spinning classes and sells gear, clients also felt protective of their trainers or instructors. “I’m very aware of the issue and I’m concerned with it,” said one young woman, saying she’d wondered if she should stop going. But she loves her class. “For me, it’s about supporting the individual people and the salon.”
One person did launch a protest of sorts. They set up a sign near the Equinox gym on Aug. 9 drawing attention to the fundraiser.
— Maggie Owsley (@andthen_shesaid) August 9, 2019
The fitness facilities say they support progressive social causes
When the controversy erupted, the national headquarters of Equinox and SoulCycle were quick to respond to the threats, issuing statements on Instagram, Twitter, and through the media saying Ross isn’t directly involved in the businesses, which are supportive of social causes such as LGBT rights.
“Neither Equinox nor SoulCycle have anything to do with the [Hamptons Trump fundraiser] event later this week and do not support it. As is consistent with our policies, no company profits are used to fund politicians,” an Equinox statement said in part. “We believe in tolerance and equality and will always stay true to those values.”
Company media statements define Ross as a passive investor in the Equinox Fitness umbrella corporation, which owns SoulCycle, PURE Yoga and Blink Fitness. But others have pointed out he is the majority owner of Related Companies, the umbrella corporation of these subsidiaries. Ross isn’t involved in the day-to-day management of the fancy fitness salons.
Staff answering the phones at both businesses in Berkeley wouldn’t comment when asked if the protest had any effect. “I can’t answer any of those questions, but I can direct you to my PR team,” said the woman at SoulCycle.
Emails to the PR team had not been answered at press time.
When this reporter appeared at SoulCycle, one of the staff members came outside to question what she was doing there, even though she was standing on a public sidewalk away from the front doors asking people if they were willing or interested in commenting on the controversy. The SoulCycle salon staff member told this reporter to keep a distance from the salon and leave clients alone. She also threatened to call the police. Equinox staff asked if she could help the reporter.
This article was updated after publication to add a tweet of someone who had cancelled their membership.