Monday, January 19, 2009

Health-Conscious Patrons Start Exercising Discretion

“Americans squeezed by the economic crisis are still forking out money for gym memberships and dieting centers but health clubs are having to hold down their fees to keep customers coming in. The Equinox Fitness chain of upscale health clubs on the east and west coasts saw a 13 percent year-on-year jump in those working out on the first Monday of the new year and analysts at Stifel Nicolaus estimate that overall health club memberships will rise more than 4 percent this year. ‘That is a reflection on how people have a desire to live a healthy, balanced life in this stressful environment,’ Equinox Chief Executive Harvey Spevak says, adding that members have trimmed back on luxurious spa treatments. But Spevak notes Equinox has experienced what he called a ‘softening’ in new health club memberships since the fall and has now frozen its rates for the first time in its 18-year history. Many people are taking advantage of special deals. Jason Mareydt joined the New York Health & Racquet Club on moving to the city from Detroit late last year, enticed by the no-commitment, no joining-fee promotion. Mareydt, on his way into the club for a free weights workout, says that, plus the discount he receives through his employer, clinched the deal for him. Still, it is a tough environment for some operators. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp has just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in 17 months. The recession and rising unemployment have put a greater focus on low-cost options. One venue that has been packed recently has been Yoga to the People in Manhattan. It has an open-class policy, meaning no one has to make a long-term financial commitment and visitors are only asked for donations of $10 a class, roughly half what others charge. Daniel Devenport, a 27-year-old street performer who works out at the 14th Street YMCA in Manhattan, says he has already adopted a low-cost, ‘minimalist’ lifestyle but won't give up the gym. ‘It is a place to meet new people,’ he says.”

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