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Posted: July 07, 2009

Health clubs not sweating the recession

Colorado Athletic Club and Carmichael Training Systems among those expanding

Patricia Kaowthumrong

It’s hard not to sweat during these uncertain economic times. Literally.

Although the recession has taken its toll on countless businesses across the state, Colorado’s health club industry continues to expand.

“I think don’t think we’ve been hit as hard as retail businesses because people still value their health,” said Ed Williams, president of Denver-based Wellbridge, which owns and operates four Colorado Athletic Club locations and has plans to open two new clubs in Boulder and Denver. Nationwide, the brand has 20 locations. “When life becomes more stressful, people want to make themselves more healthy,” he said.

One of the new Colorado Athletic Club sites will be in Boulder’s 29th Street Mall; it is planned to open by year’s end. In January, the 14-year-old Colorado Athletic Club will also add its sixth Colorado fitness outlet in Denver’s Tabor Center.

Williams, who founded Wellbridge 27 years ago, said the company is taking advantage of the down economy by building health clubs in good locations that were more expensive before the recession. 

“We’re facing the same obstacles as everyone else in this economy, but these locations were strong enough that we had to grab them when they were available,” Williams said.

When the economy turns around, Williams said, the newly built sites will reap more benefits. That could mean increased membership and use of facilities. 

Currently, membership numbers at Colorado Athletic Club gyms have not increased, but use of facilities has gone up 30 to 40 percent, Williams said. That means instead of working out twice a week, people are now heading to the gym three or four times weekly.

But Colorado Athletic Club is not the only health club chain expanding. Carmichael Training Systems, a state-of-the-art training outlet for high-endurance athletes opened a new location in Colorado Springs in late June. And fitness studio Brio Active officially opened its doors in Cherry Hills Marketplace in Denver over Memorial Day.

Nationwide, franchises of the Irving, Texas-based Gold’s Gym have recently opened or are planned to open this year in several cities, from Fitchburg, Wis., to Midlothian, Va. Franchises are also planned in parts of the East Bay and Bay Area in San Francisco to take advantage of low-cost real estate.

The gym in Cherry Hills Marketplace is the pilot studio for Brio Active, which takes a “new approach to fitness and wellness” with a 25-minute full-body workout. Expert coaches move groups of four or fewer clients through warm-up, flexibility and strength exercises and complete each workout with a “recharging” massage.

The fitness studio chose Colorado as its first location because it is an "activity-oriented state" with many different markets to reach out to, including hardcore athletes as well as those who don’t exercise regularly, said Marsha Macro, manager of Brio Active.

Sufferers of multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other physical ailments also find Brio Active’s approach beneficial, Macro said.

"We have many fingers in the market right now, and we're touching so many people," Macro said. "We want to find out what works and grow with success. We plan to open more sites in Colorado and then go nationwide."

Macro said she expects membership to be slow during the summer because more people spend time outside during this season. But despite the state of the economy, she said, fitness remains a priority for many.

"You need something that can take your mind off what's happening," Macro said

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Patricia Kaowthumrong is a student at the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Contact her at Patricia.Kaowthumrong@colorado.edu.

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