End of the millennium
Is the friendly neighborhood gym a thing of the past?
With New Year’s resolutions in full swing, many people are newly resolved to lose weight lose and get in shape. Following the start of a new year, gyms famously see a spike in both new memberships, and fuller class sizes of existing members.
But this time around, one local gym won’t be seeing any increases. Not due to resolutionists choosing to focus on something like, say, going green in 2013 instead, but because they will be closing their doors after almost 15 New Years past.
Fitness Millennium, which heard the whirling sound of treadmills for the final time on Dec. 27, is choosing to lay its weights to rest after battling a multitude of obstacles throughout its solid run—all while keeping good form, of course.
Kit Brady, sole owner since June of 2005, took over from his business partner Leslee Bender, developer of the workout gem the Bender Ball. Brady says that what once was a thriving little aerobic oasis, Fitness Millennium has been seeing problems arise since the economy crashed.
“As much as my core members love this gym, it also takes another layer outside of them,” Brady says of customers other than his regular fitness fanatics, whose average age hovers in the 40-plus zone, and many of which have been members for up to 10 years.
“Since 2007, when the recession hit, that outside layer shrunk. I went from 575 members to about 420. And I saw a constant drop in my members every month since—especially through the summer of this year and the fall.” With the opening of larger, corporate money-backed gyms coming into play as well, Brady says he got pushed further and further off the field. “I couldn’t recruit, whatever I tried … Boutique, neighborhood gyms like mine are fading. It’s kind of the end of an era. In their places are going the discount gyms, the 24-hour access gyms, places like that I’m competing against.”
Fitness Millennium saw a membership deficit that ultimately created a financial situation that wasn’t exactly golden—and led to occasional months when Brady says his rent payments saw the backlash.
The perks of being a small business in a community-oriented neighborhood, is that occasionally one can land in the hands of a local property owner who understands the plight of the little guy, and is willing to perhaps, on occasion, overlook a couple of late payments. However, when Fitness Millennium’s shopping center went to auction earlier this year, and was then put into the hands of an out-of-state property management group, Texas-based C3 Capital, that leniency changed, according to Brady.
“After the economy went down, I couldn’t always make payments on time in full but the previous owners were very understanding,” Brady says.
But when the gym’s lease came up for renewal the end of March, the lease negotiations began, and taking into consideration the ups and downs of its financial rollercoaster—without the benefit of having a local take on the gym sticking it out for close to 15 years thus far—certain stipulations came into play which ultimately led to Brady’s decision to unplug the treadmills for the gym’s final lap of 2012.
“You do a little bit of a dance when you do lease negations,” Brady says. “We did that for a few months. But they wanted me to do a few things I wasn’t comfortable with doing, and I think they were a little strong in some of their requests.”
Those included requests such as an additional $4,000 security deposit (on top of the current $2,000) and the signing of a personal guarantee versus a corporate guarantee—a signing that would put personal assets, along with the business itself, up for grabs if it failed. A representative of the property management group declined to comment.
So Brady enlisted the help of one of his five-year members turned friend turned business attorney, Barry Breslow, and after some discussion, and taking the Thanksgiving holiday to mull it over, decided it was best to close the gym.
“I couldn’t save this gym for him. The economics weren’t coming into play,” Breslow explains. “[The new property owners] don’t know him, they’re just looking at numbers. They’re not Nevadans—they don’t live here.”
Don’t mess around with gym
Brady admits the leasing negotiations were only part of the equation that added up to the decision to shut the doors. It was also the long hours—he was not only the owner, but one of just two employees in charge of cleaning, repairing and managing the gym—regularly putting in 60 hour work weeks—and, at 56, the approaching of his retirement age. Still, the decision didn’t come easy.
“The hardest thing in my mind was how was I going to tell the Debs, the Lindseys, the Marshas and the Peggys … the Barrys and the Bretts,” Brady recalls breaking the news to his core members. “I went through my head their reaction to what I was going to tell them, that their comfortable old shoe of a gym was going to close.”
Nothing prepared Brady for the reaction his members did have however. There were tears and personal sentiments Brady says surprised him despite being known among members as the Cheers of gyms, thanks to its close-knit, community atmosphere.
“People I thought I had very little or no impact on got teary-eyed—I was shocked,” Brady says. “I was so wrapped up in hours and finances, distractions of day-to-day operations, that I didn’t see how much of an impact I had on people.”
One such impact for which he was unprepared was the fundraiser, started by Breslow, from which his members pooled together to raise money for a hip replacement surgery for Brady in September. It was an operation he’d needed for a degenerative hip condition that’d been noticeably worsening.
“We noticed him limping around [the gym], but the cost of the surgery was too high for him to meet,” Breslow says of himself and his fellow members. So he printed fliers asking members to attend a fundraiser dinner at Eclipse Pizza, with Brady being the unsuspecting guest of honor. “People donated whatever they could afford. We raised $3,200, and he got the surgery. We told him, ‘Kit, we didn’t do this for you—you raised all this goodwill yourself. We just helped you cash it in.’”
There are other gyms on the circuit that Fitness Millenium’s members will be able to switch to. But the core members, who have become like a family to one another over the years, say they’re most upset about losing that personal connection and the comfort of seeing the same faces close to five days a week.
“I started there in September of 1999,” Marsha Aymar, an 88-year-old member says. “We’re all going to leave and go to different places, but we made such close friends down there. Everyone seems to know you when you walk in, and I’ll miss that.”
There may not be a trophy at the end of Fitness Millennium’s race, but they had a solid run filled with golden memories to take home. As for Brady’s personal resolution for 2013?
“I’m gonna go join another gym,” he says with a grin, in regards to adding himself to the ranks of spiked gym memberships in the new year. “And let someone else clean and repair and worry.”