Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Imagine Taco Bell buying Mighty Taco. Nathan’s Famous hot dogs buying Ted’s. Walmart buying Wegmans.
That may help you understand the mood this weekend among the fitness inclined at Buffalo Athletic Clubs across the region.
The BAC co-ed sites as we know them will cease to exist in the coming weeks – and changes already were in the works Saturday as hundreds of members walked into branches downtown, and in Orchard Park, Amherst, Cheektowaga and Clarence, as well as two clubs in Rochester, and found L.A. Fitness employees working behind front desks with BAC staffers who wondered – four days before Christmas – whether they will be able to hold onto their jobs in the new year.
The BAC has sold its co-ed health clubs in Buffalo and Rochester to L.A. Fitness. The company’s women’s clubs are not affected by the sale. The deal is expected to close on Monday.
Rick Leugemors, Buffalo Athletic Club owner, sent emails to club employees Thursday night informing them of the sale.
The staff and members at the Eastern Hills branch were abuzz over the news Saturday after a story in The Buffalo News.
So was Brian Turnbull, a personal trainer who was told this weekend he no longer can train his clients at the new L.A. Fitness under the kind of freelance agreement he's had with the BAC since 1997. He will spend the days before Christmas lining up other gyms to work with more than 50 clients, and said things will go just fine, because there are other gyms in the region open to such arrangements.
“It’ll just be a lot of organization,” Turnbull said.
Here’s how he described the change in atmosphere BAC members can expect: “It will be more corporate than that down-home feel.”
I have been a member of the BAC since arriving back home in 2004 after living in the Syracuse area for 15 years. I’ve worked out in several of the clubs over the years, so I had plenty of questions Saturday morning after arriving back in Buffalo after a couple of days off. Here’s how the L.A. Fitness representative at the Eastern Hills club answered my questions:
- What’s going to change at the club? Nothing much, at first. Classes will continue, and more may be added.
- I just renewed my BAC membership for a year. How long is that $299 annual individual rate locked in? As long as you want to remain with the club.
- What if I want to work out in an already existing L.A. Fitness location? No problem.
- What if I want to cancel my BAC-started membership? Why would you want to?
This guy wasn’t authorized to speak with the media, though I asked him to pass my contact information up the corporate chain, a common practice in big companies that generally want all communication handled at headquarters. So far, the corporate L.A. Fitness office isn’t talking, although that may change after the sale is finalized.
Here’s how the BAC is answering some questions on its website. It is leaving L.A. Fitness to answer many others after the West Coast company officially takes ownership.
There is nothing yet regarding the sale on the L.A. Fitness website.
At the BAC Saturday, the staff was in shock. Workers had no idea this was coming before Thursday night. They have since been told by their bosses that secrecy was required pending the sale. Several expressed anxiety about their careers and the classes they may, or may not, teach.
For some, the switch had the same punch that many of us would feel if an L.A. owner was buying the Buffalo Bills.
The BAC has a hometown feel because of its local ownership. The L.A. Fitness that opened early this year in Clarence, in the Walmart Plaza, about a half-mile north of the Eastern Hills BAC, is nicer and has more equipment and features. But the company does business differently, Turnbull said.
Friday was the last day Turnbull was allowed to train his clients at the BAC; L.A. Fitness, he said, handles that on its own, and it’s more expensive.
Those who use the clubs strictly to work out by themselves may well find they like the change. That may not be the case for others.
The California-based gym giant doesn’t do Cross-Fit training, which the BAC has offered this year, nor, said Turnbull, is the chain as interested in fitness classes as the BAC historically has been.
That explains why instructors are nervous. If they can keep their jobs, they wonder if they’ll be able to continue to teach their own routines and use their own music, as they’ve been able to do because they can work directly with BAC decision-makers.
Women who like BAC classes as they are will have the option of going to the women-only clubs in the Town of Tonawanda, Amherst and Depew.
Those who want to consider looking around for another co-ed gym will want to take a look at the first cover story I wrote for Refresh back in March. Read it here.
Meanwhile, The News will look to get more info from L.A. Fitness as the changes move ahead, and pass information along as we do, including in Saturday’s WNY Refresh.