Stanwood gym tries to rebuild member base

STANWOOD — In January, gyms typically add new members armed with their New Year’s resolutions to get in better shape.

This January has been different for TeamFitness.

The fitness club recently took over two gyms in Stanwood after a former owner got evicted, said Mike Liberato, the club’s owner. It’s scrambling to reach out and retain members who have yet to recover their fees from the former owner.

Plus, the business is struggling with the ongoing recession.

Liberato said that those who have paid advance membership fees to Port Susan Athletic Club are allowed to continue to use the gyms for free on one condition: They will sign up for a yearlong membership with TeamFitness when their contacts expire.

“We are trying to work with them,” Liberato said.

As a result, the two new branches of TeamFitness in Stanwood are operating in the red, Liberato said. One branch, TeamFitness Sport, is located off 72nd Avenue NW in east Stanwood. The other, TeamFitness Downtown, is in the city’s downtown.

“It’s totally not fair to us,” he said.

Dan Lehr, the owner of Port Susan Athletic Club, was evicted from the buildings for not paying rent, according to court documents. Lehr referred all the questions from The Herald to Gary Abolofia, his attorney in Bellevue.

Abolofia didn’t return calls from The Herald.

Stacey Thompson of Camano Island said she has worked out at the gym in east Stanwood since 2005. She said she couldn’t take classes in December because the gym was closed.

But she and her husband were charged for about $120 for December membership fees on their credit card, Thompson said.

“I felt ripped off,” Thompson said, adding that she later was able to get the charge reversed by her credit card company.

Nonetheless, Thompson decided to keep using the gym.

“I tell you, that staff here is unbeatable,” she said.

Port Susan Athletic Club had about 4,200 members before closing its doors, said Amy Anderson, a former employee of the club. Anderson now works as a branch manager for TeamFitness in Stanwood.

TeamFitness has about 1,500 members in Stanwood, Anderson said. It’s been difficult to get in touch with those who were with Port Susan Athletic Club.

“It’s been a word of mouth,” Anderson said.

TeamFitness has two other gyms — one is in Lake Stevens, the other in Snohomish — Liberato said. Those branches are helping the business absorb losses in Stanwood.

Anderson and Liberato said they have been trying to make the transition as smooth as possible for their clients. They kept most of the employees who used to work for the former owner. The business now employs 78 people in Stanwood.

“We have a great staff,” Liberato said. “There are many great people in this community. They need a health club.”

It will take more time to regain trust, Liberato added.

Veronica Piazzi, office manager, said she feels fortunate to keep her job despite the ownership change. It would have been tough to be unemployed during the ongoing recession, she said.

“I didn’t want to let members down,” she said.

The transition between the two owners hasn’t affected Al Mervyn very much. Mervyn, 60, of Camano Island, has been swimming at the gym in east Stanwood for about six years.

“I don’t know too much about politics of it,” he said.

Mervyn said he just extended his membership with the gym.

“I like the atmosphere,” he said. “I know a lot of people.”

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.

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