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Private Health Club Staying Competitive With Seventh Remodel

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Copyright 2013 The Press Enterprise, Inc.
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The Press Enterprise
October 2, 2013, Wednesday
BUSINESS; Pg. D1
753 words
ONE OF CITY'S OLDEST GYMS GETS FACE-LIFT
LAURIE LUCAS STAFF WRITER LLUCAS@PE.COM

Canyon Crest Athletic Club, one of the oldest private gyms in Riverside, has survived three recessions and the onslaught of big, corporate-owned chains.

To stay in shape to compete with these younger, cutting-edge contenders, Canyon Crest once again has re-invented itself, undergoing its seventh remodel in more than three decades at 5225 Canyon Crest Drive.

Owner Mark Thompson said it's the most extensive and expensive face-lift since he built and opened the club in 1981. He said the surgery, which started at $500,000, was in response to members' requests. "We're not trying to shove as many people in here as we can," Thompson, 65, said. "This is our 'Cheers' family and we want to make people happy."

Canyon Crest Athletic Club, as well as the entire fitness industry, has remained strong during the past couple of decades. Industry revenues in the U.S. topped $21 billion as memberships totaled 51 million in 2013, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. What's more, income and membership are expected to grow over the next five years, said Meredith Poppler, a spokeswoman for the trade organization. She said the best health clubs don't try to be all things to all people, but reinvest in their physical plant, equipment and staff and focus on customer service.

That's exactly what Thompson said he's been doing over the past 2 ½ years. Besides installing new carpeting, he doubled the size of the five-year-old privately owned spa in the building. He also moved Angie's World, a nutrition and vitamin store, across the street into the club's ground floor.

Because racquetball has declined sharply in popularity since the club's debut, Thompson saw better uses for the underserved courts. Crews reconfigured much of the club's interior to create a mezzanine for group exercise.

"This used to be air" said Thompson, gesturing at 2,400-square-feet made up of a class workout room next to a stationary cycling room built over three former racquetball courts.

What was once a small free weight section now boasts state-of-the-art resistance machines; and the old, 2,000-square-foot aerobics room is now filled with lifting equipment on joint-friendly urethane flooring. In a couple of years, Thompson plans to revamp the lobby, build a lounge, remodel the outdoor pool and add a barbecue, fire pit and bocce ball area.

Besides physical improvements, there's a new management team, the first changing of the guard in 25 years. Manager Lawrence Martinez, 34, and his assistant, Kelley Gallegos, 39, are both fitness fanatics who try to instill "Disneyland" charm in the club's 50 employees. "We're the new face of the club," said Gallegos. "And one of our goals is to attract younger members."

Martinez used to work for an insurance company, but was so horrified by Sept. 11, he joined the Army, where he's still an active reserve member. In January he'll launch a tough, military-based boot camp class at the health club.

Gallegos, a single mother of three boys and a personal trainer, teaches six Zumba classes a week at her children's school.

She's been working out at Canyon Crest Athletic Club for the past 29 years. She and Martinez pride themselves on knowing most of their 5,000 members on a first-name basis.

"I come for the camaraderie," said Ed Daffron, 55, a racquetball player at the club for 15 years. Unlike some places, where rivalry can curdle into off-court animosity, "the competition here is over with a handshake when the game's over," he said.

In 1979, Thompson developed the 22-acre Canyon Crest Towne Centre as a distinctive triangular-shaped community centerpiece with two major anchors, Thrifty (now Rite-Aid) and Alpha Beta (now Ralphs). The property directly behind the supermarket seemed the ideal spot for a chummy, neighborhood enclave where shoppers could also sweat and socialize.

Thompson christened the 30,000-square-foot, $1.7 million gym Roman Gabriel Health Center, homage to the famed NFL quarterback. (Thompson said his company bought Gabriel out and changed the club's name after the former Los Angeles Rams' player moved to the East Coast.

Bill Kraisosky, 74, one of the club's charter members, explained why he hasn't switched: "It's a more pleasant environment than other gyms," he said, while burning calories on the stair climber. "The people who work here are friendly."

The public is invited to the revamped club's big reveal at a celebration from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5, that includes city officials.

October 2, 2013

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