By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Russ Dye was pretty impressed Friday with what he saw at the new LA Fitness in Amherst, and that’s not bad, considering he’s one of those still stung by the sale of the former Buffalo Athletic Club coed fitness centers to the West Coast mega-chain late last year.
“I’m pretty encouraged,” he told me after he hit the free weights and cardio machines for the first time since the new fitness center opened Thursday in the former Circuit City space at Sheridan Drive and Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Group fitness classes started Monday at the club, and will be led by, among others, former instructors at the now-shuttered LA Fitness Boulevard Mall club, a former BAC fitness facility that wasn’t laid out in the chain’s cookie cutter format.
The new club is slightly larger, with more equipment, than the LA Fitness in the Walmart plaza in Clarence. It also has three racquetball courts.
Dye, 61, a retired CSX safety coordinator who lives in East Amherst, said he ran into a few former Eastern Hills Racquet Club members at the new digs over the weekend who left that club when the BAC purchased it and tore out the racquetball courts to make room for other fitness options.
Many of those racquetball enthusiasts left for Bally’s at that time, but about 60 of them look to join LA Fitness as a result of the new courts. “They’re tickled pink,” Dye said.
For more information on the new club and the bumpy transition, you can access some of my previous blog posts here.
Among improvements Dye cited from the old BAC days:
- LA Fitness cardio machines have their own TVs that can be controlled by the user.
- The racquetball and basketball courts.
- The lap pool and hot tub.
His wife, Daphne Finnegan, a retired SUNY Buffalo State professor of modern dance, is among women splitting her time these days between the BAC for Women and LA Fitness. She opted to take a month-to-month membership with LA Fitness to keep working out with her favorite group fitness instructor, her husband said.
Dye said he bumped into some of his former BAC friends during his first day at the club, and expects to see more in the coming days. But he knows that former club members have scattered, including women who’ve followed other popular group fitness instructors to the BAC for Women, and seniors who left for the YMCA Buffalo Niagara and other gyms that accept Medicare Advantage fitness club discounts that LA Fitness, at this point, does not.
The shorter lockers, showers that lack soap dishes and relative lack of friendliness of the staff continue to be among his concerns, Dye said.
Dye may have noticed the uneasiness the local staff feels when top managers from the chain come in to deal with such transitions. As a former BAC/current LA Fitness member, I noticed this after the sale of the clubs was announced and, again, in late May, when the Eastern Hills club closed.
Things should improve on the customer service end, but it likely will be impossible for the top-down chain to duplicate the atmosphere of the local BAC clubs.
“The one thing you got involved with was social groups, and some of that was fractured with the sale,” Dye said.
BAC group fitness instructors were well known for their Christmas parties and other gatherings, including healthy meals out, movies and bowling.
“When people go their separate ways, that’s probably going to go away, to an extent,” Dye said.
Members will have to make do with the greater variety of fitness options and newer equipment.
The chain also has gone out of its way to add the kind of group fitness classes that the BAC was known for. Whether it will keep all the class schedules in the months and years to come is an open question. Staffers and those who’ve been members in other states have told me the class format isn’t necessarily the chain’s strong suit.
Meanwhile, Dye is willing to continue to give LA Fitness a chance.
“All in all, I would say I’m going to give the new club a pretty good mark,” he said. “I felt I was pretty open minded about the transition, but I’m just a BAC guy. Do I wish the BAC was back? Obviously I do, but it’s not going to happen. You’ve got to move on. For what I do (in the gym), I’ll be able to adjust."