A women-only gym in Detroit Lakes has been shut down by the city, and the owner may face misdemeanor charges for violating zoning regulations, in large part because the gym wasn’t built with a bathroom for customers.
April Imholte, who operates Livin Fit Training & The Iron Shed Gym off Highway 10 near Long Lake, put out a passionate plea on Facebook on Sunday, April 25, for support in her battle with city officials.
The city issued a cease and desist order to shut down the gym on Nov. 12, 2020, and recently launched an investigation into whether that order was violated.
In the 24-minute video, Imholte told her story, why she left nursing to pursue fitness, how she realized just how much women need fitness in their lives, because women “need to have a place where they feel like they belong, a place where they feel like they are not judged or harassed,” and so she decided to open her own business, she said.
Imholte started with an online remote business, Livin Fit Training, and then added the in-person Iron Shed Gym, “which is a women-only gym, and it’s unique in that sense,” she said in the video.
It’s a “constant issue” for women at mixed-membership gyms that they are “harassed, gawked at, judged, discriminated against,” she said in the video. “It has to stop, we need to stand up, we need to use our voice, and that is exactly what I am doing today. I will not be silent any longer.”
She said city officials have refused to work with her and her husband, Kyle, to find a compromise solution to the bathroom and other zoning issues.
“I follow the rules, I don’t look for a free pass ... but I knew in this situation there had to be a way to work around this building code,” she said in the video. She said the city effort “felt very personal,” and later added that “It was clear from the first time we sat down with them they had no intention of helping us with a solution.”
Documents and emails, provided to the Tribune by the city via an open records request, show that the Imholtes started out on the wrong foot: Kyle Imholte told city officials that the $40,000 pole barn expansion was for storage, and for a gym area for his wife’s personal use. The May 9, 2018, building permit request said it was for residential improvements, and no mention was made of a commercial gym.
Different zoning requirements would have applied with a commercial application, including a bathroom for customer use and at least 10 parking spaces.
“Imholte's June 18, 2020 email to me admits that the facility is a commercial enterprise intended for generation of revenue, and that revenue over a 3 month time span is expected to approximate $40,000,” City Administrator Kelcey Klemm said in an email. “Clearly, this is not a hobby or home gym, as originally represented.”
And city officials say the Imholtes have resisted efforts to force them to comply with commercial building requirements ever since.
“As you can read in the attached (cease and desist) order, the Imholtes have failed to meet every deadline, including those they had agreed to meet, to bring their building up to code,” Klemm said in a April 24 memo to the Detroit Lakes City Council. “The city's goal is to merely have the Imholtes comply with the code, something they have failed to do at every opportunity over the last 3 years,” he said, adding that “currently, there is a pending investigation to see if the CEASE AND DESIST ORDER has been violated. And due to the pending nature of the investigation, the details of the investigation are not available.”
April Imholte appeared to address that police investigation in her Facebook video.
She said that on April 22, an investigator with the Detroit Lakes Police Department called one of her friends “asking questions about Livin Fit and the Iron Shed Gym … An investigator is calling my people, harassing women in this community because (city officials) saw a Facebook post and made an assumption that I was still running a business.”
She said she has been offering her gym to women free of charge.
“Because my virtual business has been thriving (during COVID) and because my family has been blessed, I have continued to utilize this space for women in our community -- free of charge,” she said in the video. “Women can come here as guests in my private space and work out with me, because I care.”
In hindsight, it seems like it might have been easier just to put in a bathroom, but Kyle Imholte said in an interview that would have cost $50,000 to $60,000 to build a bathroom, install plumbing, hook up to city sewer and water, and pay any future special assessments.
The police investigation was apparently launched after city officials saw Facebook activity that led them to believe that the gym was open for business, April Imholte said. They misunderstood, and it was just a bunch of friends getting together to work out there for free, she said.
But the investigation has meant police calls to at least three former friends, customers and trainers, she said, and that has hurt her reputation. “It’s complete defamation of character, and it’s affected my online business 100%,” she said. “That’s probably the most frustrating thing … that’s what made me want to speak out.”
“We agreed to the cease and desist order, we closed, we complied with the order,” Kyle Imholte said. “Why use bully tactics and intimidation on us?”