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Covington Athletic Club closes its doors
Group of former members may buy and reopen the club
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The Covington Athletic Club shut down Friday, but a group of local members are trying to band together to purchase and reopen their beloved gym.

The club has been a community staple since it opened 22 years ago, but current owner Philip Johnson, a local lawyer, had to close it as membership continued to drop. In 2006, the club had more than 2,000 members, but as of last week that number had dropped to 1,400.

Johnson said he and his staff read over every cancellation form, and the trend was obvious.

"For so many people the answer was economic conditions or financial situations. People were being laid off from their jobs. You could just see the economy deteriorating," he said.

Johnson purchased the building in 2002 because he and his wife were members and they saw it as a good business opportunity. He remodeled the gym and saw business increase during the next few years. However, revenues dropped sharply since 2007, and monthly revenue was about $12,000 less in 2009 than in 2008.

Johnson said he has been trying to sell the building for a while, but the most recent prospective buyer fell through. He couldn't afford to keep the club open any longer.

"I was emotionally spent, and I said ‘that's it, we pushed as far as it could go.' It just breaks my heart," he said. "A lot of our 50 employees had been employed since the club first opened. There was a great deal of sorrow when we had to let them go. If we can arrange to have someone come in and buy the gym, we'll be very happy."

Debra Griffith was one of the first members to join the Covington Athletic Club, signing up for a membership before the building was even completed.

"I joined because I was a workout junkie using only home equipment and going to classes anywhere I could find one, most typically in a church fellowship hall where someone had organized aerobics classes. So when the opportunity came to go to a real gym, I jumped on it," Griffith said.

She and several other long-time members have been meeting to discuss any options to save the club.

The group is trying to move as quickly as possible because many members are already signing up at other facilities. But Griffith said the investment isn't small and the details may take a while to work out.

She said the investment may also be less feasible because of the decreased membership. Many bare-bones gyms, composed of simple weight and aerobic machines, have attracted members who don't need specific services and wanted to pay less.

Johnson said he is talking to other prospective buyers, but he would prefer to sell to a local group. If the deal comes through he said he would be interested in joining as a part owner.

If someone buys the gym then the current memberships will simply roll over to the new owner. However, if no buyer is found, Johnson will sell the exercise equipment and plans to use the proceeds to reimburse members.

Although many members have left the club recently, Griffith said many others remain. For them, the facilities and camaraderie at Covington Athletic Club are irreplaceable.

Griffith said the club has been so popular because it offered far more amenities than any other area gym. One of the largest draws was the county's only publically available indoor pool. Not only does it allow people to swim year round, but the heated pool allowed senior citizens to participate in a special arthritis program that wasn't available elsewhere.

Griffith said the club also provided aerobics, water aerobics and weight lifting classes, personal trainers, day care, tanning beds, steam rooms, a sauna, a jacuzzi, a tennis court, a basketball court, an outdoor jogging track, a racquetball court, a dedicated yoga/Pilates room and a dedicated spinning room.

However, the club's importance goes beyond the amenities.

"One of the main reasons I have stayed at this particular gym for so long is that, to me, the club goes well beyond physical health ... satisfying the ever-important social needs for camaraderie most of us have," she said. "I have gained so many friends over the years here. This place is family. We care about each other, and when one of us is missing from class, we notice and will check on each other."

She said the club is especially import to seniors in particular and that is one of the reasons the group is dedicated to keeping the club open.

"I am very concerned about how the closing of the club is going to impact the lives of two particular membership groups: our senior citizens and widowers. I have spoken to many of those members who are devastated. Covington Athletic Club to a large degree is what keeps these folks going and what gives them a reason to get out of bed in the mornings," Griffith said. "Without the gym, one of the most significant events in their daily lives has been taken from them. We have lost our CHEERS - the place 'where everybody knows your name!'"