City Desk

Burpee Flash Mob More a Hiccup Than a Belch

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Graham King arrived at the front of the Wilson Building sweaty and out of breath.

"I ran here, you can't tax that," he said just before noon today, adding that he had paid taxes on everything he was wearing.

King, the owner of Roam Fitness in Glover Park, organized a burpee flash mob—burpees being those delightful exercises involving rapid series of planks, push-ups, jumps, and repeats—to protest the city's proposed tax on health clubs and fitness services, which is often called the "yoga tax." The proposal, which the D.C. Council already gave preliminary approval to, would extend the city's 5.75 percent sales tax to services like gym memberships and yoga classes. The proposal would also apply to bowling alleys and billiard parlors, carpet and upholstery cleaning, car washes, mini-storage, and other businesses. 

King was planning to form a "burpee fence" around the Wilson Building in the hopes of swaying the Council to vote against the tax on a second vote later this month. But fewer than 10 people showed up to the flash mob. Still, the protesters did the promised eight burpees—one for each ward—in front of more than a dozen members of the media.

"Instead of picking 30 industries, tax them all," says King. "Shouldn't lobbyists be taxed for their services, too?"

Steven Dolge, the owner of Second Wind CrossFit in Brightwood, said that for CrossFit gyms, where monthly fees are typically much higher than the average gym membership, the new tax would hit customers deep in the pockets.

"The city should be incentivizing people to get fit, not decentivizing it," he said.

The city, however, has argued in the past that the proposal would generate millions in additional taxes in 2015, according to the Post. And the latest budget actually calls for $225 million in tax cuts, potentially offsetting the extra sales taxes residents would pay.

Four years ago, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty proposed a similar tax on gym services, and hundreds of people rallied against the tax. That plan was quashed. 

This time around, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says he expects the D.C. Council to move forward with the proposal.

The tax expansion wasn't originally included in the mayor's original budget proposal, and King says the public only learned of the measure 18 hours before the Council took a vote on it. He says he wishes businesses could have been engaged in the process earlier on.

In the meantime, let's hope the D.C. Council responds with some burpees of its own. Newly svelte Vincent Orange can go first.

Correction: Due to a reporting error this article previously said that the tax proposal would extend to beauty salons and construction firms. As the Post reported, the Council rejected extending the tax to these businesses.  

Photo by Perry Stein. 

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  • NavyYardRulz

    But, but, David Garber created a big image with a funky typeface and hashtag, instructing his millenial legions to fight the fitness tax! That should have been good enough!

  • VIDA Member

    Are gym owners afraid that members will no longer be able to afford steroids if they have to pay sales tax on memberships? Good government costs money. Gyms are discretionary. You can be healthful without joining a gym and joining a gym doesn’t mean you are healthy – plenty of VIDA boys are smoking on the curb before gowning inside, are getting skin cancer in the tanning beds and are juicing (I don’t mean having a protein drink afterwards). At $1K a year, VIDA is not going to lose anyone because they have to pay for their government.

  • jorge

    Steven Dolge, if you're so worried about your customers' pockets, how about charging reasonable fees so normal people can afford it?

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