By Pete Williams
Dear LA Fitness:
Thank you for your email this morning offering me two free coupons to experience the “club opening” of an LA Fitness where I’ve been a member for the last seven years.
Of course, I’ve never been a member of LA Fitness. The address and phone number of your “new LA Fitness” is that of my Lifestyle Family Fitness, the St. Petersburg-based health club chain with 33 Florida locations you acquired last week.
Details are sketchy at the moment, with neither you nor your new LFF friends talking to anyone. There’s been plenty of time, however, to shoot out an email letting me know that “your first billing will be automatically collected on 8/2/2012, unless your membership has previously been activated.”
Huh? This will not end well. Long before cell phones and bundled digital media services, the health club industry made the act of writing fine-print, bait-and-switch, hard-to-break, convoluted membership contracts an art form.
The next Visa bill no doubt will be interesting.
Here at the Clearwater LFF, we saw this coming ever since you opened your glitzy LA Fitness nearby four years ago. For years, our LFF has gone downhill. Equipment is replaced less often and there’s not one rusty bike in the spin room without a broken part. A facility that once always smelled of fresh paint now is chipped and dinged. Only recently did LFF add a few token flatscreens. The meathead posers and fitness model babes have long since moved four miles south to the glitzier LA Fitness.
Those of us remaining have felt like Peter LaFleur’s gang at Average Joe’s, coming for the camaraderie of the group fitness classes and because we’re used to the quirky three-level layout of a building that once was a four-screen movie theater.
I’ve been taking the same Tuesday morning spin class long enough to have seen the instructor go from being a recent college graduate vowing never to get married to a recently-married thirty something.
Unlike a lot of (ahem) larger gyms known for letting anyone with a mail-in fitness credential carry a clipboard and train members, most of our LFF trainers hold CPT certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) that are a bear to obtain. (I know; I spent six months studying for the exam and somehow passed. Good thing I’m not actually looking to become a personal trainer as the LFF trainers don’t know what their futures hold.)
A number of pro athletes who could train anywhere choose to toil in our gym despite its mismatched dumbbells and broken shower heads. James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays began working out with a trainer there before the 2011 season, when he lead the American League with 11 complete games.
Our LFF isn’t located so close to Globo Gym, I mean, LA Fitness, that it will be razed for a parking garage. But it’s close enough that it’s hard to imagine LA Fitness keeping it open.
Some members will head to LA Fitness. Others will go to Anytime Fitness around the corner. The triathletes will find somewhere else to spin. I’ll probably spend more time at TNL Tampa, the CrossFit gym near Westchase where I already spend Saturday mornings training for obstacle races.
It seems a shame, though, that LFF will go out with a whimper. Maybe we should take a page from Peter LaFleur’s original playbook and send it out Irish wake style. It’s already falling apart. Let’s have one last party and bust up the place.
Then again….we could play dodgeball.