By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
The former Boulevard Mall location of the Buffalo Athletic Club will close at 5 p.m. today as LA Fitness opens a new club in the old Circuit City store on Sheridan Drive at Niagara Falls Boulevard.
The new Amherst club will open at 5 p.m., about the same time the mall club closes, staff and patrons at the location told me this week.
LA Fitness purchased the Boulevard Mall club late last year – as well as all other BAC coed clubs in Western New York aside from a CrossFit club – after it already had plans to create the new location it opens today.
The West Coast chain also plans another club in Hamburg soon, according to sources and its website.
It also owns two clubs in Buffalo and one each in Clarence, Niagara Falls and Orchard Park, as well as three clubs in Rochester.
The new Amherst club will be larger than the Boulevard location and include three racquetball courts, staff and members said.
“I don’t mind the change, but I liked the more intimate atmosphere of the BAC. It was more of a family atmosphere,” said Russ Dye, 61, a retired CSX safety coordinator who lives in East Amherst and has preferred to work out in the more comfortable digs of the Boulevard club since the BAC-LA Fitness sale in late December.
Like Dye, I was a longtime BAC member swept up in the change. You can read several blog posts I wrote during and after the transition here.
I will say that LA Fitness has begun to grow on me since I started visiting the Clarence club earlier this year.
It’s new, I like the “cycling theater” for my spinning classes and it’s nice to soak in the hot tub every once in a while.
I’m old enough to remember the hot tub and racquetball courts at the old Eastern Hills Racquet Club, which morphed into the BAC Eastern Hills and, for a very short time, an LA Fitness outlet.
Predictably, with a brand new club in the Walmart Plaza less than a mile up Transit Road, that club closed in late May.
The change brought growing pains for former BAC coed members:
• Many of the women followed some of their instructors to the BAC for Women.
• Many senior citizens – upset that LA Fitness won’t accept insurance plans that give them free or vastly reduced-cost fitness memberships – flocked to clubs that do, including YMCA Buffalo Niagara branches across the region.
• And numbers dwindled following the sale at Eastern Hills and the Boulevard where, at Eastern Hills in particular, equipment went unrepaired and grass, for long stretches, uncut.
Life isn’t perfect at LA Fitness. I’m among those who isn’t crazy about trying to stuff work clothes and a gym bag into half-sized lockers, and the BB-sized pellets of soap that squeeze out of the shower soap dispensers are a testament that the big new fitness player in town chooses to toe a stringent financial line. But things aren’t all bad, either, for the Dyes or me.
Dye’s wife stuck with the BAC for Women, but also has a month-to-month membership at LA Fitness, where she still works out with some of the group fitness instructors she loved at the old BAC Eastern Hills.
The suddenness of the BAC-LA Fitness sales, during the Christmas holidays, left many BAC instructors who opted to stay with LA Fitness wary of their futures.
The good news here: most of these instructors work part-time and hold other jobs; and LA Fitness has added classes and brought just about all of them into other clubs.
The same is expected in the aftermath of today’s club closing. With a larger facility, and another on the horizon in Hamburg, the prospect of more instructors working for the chain soon is growing.
Jenna Ziegler, an Alden high school Spanish teacher and one of my favorite spinning instructors, played “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as her last spinning song in the old Eastern Hills BAC just before it closed several weeks ago. She’s teaching Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings at the LA Fitness Clarence location.
“The bikes are much nicer,” she told me.
Most of my fellow spinning class students from the old Eastern Hills site have followed Ziegler and other instructors to LA Fitness.
Dye is open minded about his impending shift, too, and predicts some of the faces in the LA Fitness clubs in Clarence and on Elmwood Avenue will change as they now have a more favorable location closer to home.
The long-term question: Will the regional fitness market be able to handle the proliferation of so many new clubs, of all shapes and sizes?
Time will tell.