Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Survival of the fittest: Local gyms fight to compete with UMass Rec Center

The Leading Edge is a fitness center located just a mile down the road from the University of Massachusetts’ Recreation Center. It’s only been two years since the Edge opened, and due to its success, a second location opened a few exits down the highway. But on Dec. 4, 2009, it met its match.

When the Rec Center opened its doors for the first time, the Edge, along with its $29.99-per-month membership fee, was faced with a nearly impossible task – compete with a bigger, state-of-the-art facility in a much more convenient location.

Oh yeah, and it’s essentially free to the 20,000 or so students living in the area. Students do pay for access to the center as a part of their required fees to attend the university, but there are no “monthly bills” to speak of.

In 2003, the mega-franchise Gold’s Gym opened a branch in what probably seemed like an ideal location – a mile from a huge state university that lacked an adequate fitness center. In 2008, the owners wanted to “be recognized in the community as a locally-owned gym” and so they ditched the popular name and became The Leading Edge, according to a press release.

Posted in the Edge’s window along with a letter to former members, the press release noted that after ownership problems, a decrease in membership and the waning economy, owner Joanne DeLong was left with no option but to close the gym on Oct. 20, 2010.

“We anticipated them closing…we had heard rumors maybe a year ago,” said Western Mass. Planet Fitness Operations Manager Matthew Rogers.

Planet Fitness, located behind the Wal-Mart in Hadley, Mass., was hit “pretty hard” by the opening of the Rec Center initially, but according to Rogers, has since managed to do rather well for itself by offering a menu of incentives and by changing its target audience.

“Since [the Rec Center] has opened up, we’ve been slowly growing back,” Rogers said. “Even though it initially hurt us, we’ve continued to grow and grow and grow by focusing on the residential community more.”

In focusing on a new demographic of members, the Hadley Planet Fitness has become truer to its creed.

“We’re the ‘judgment free zone’ in the sense where we cater to the average person,” Rogers explained. “I think perhaps with the students, [the residential community] was a little intimidated at times; it was busy and it was difficult to use some of the equipment.”

According to a few UMass students, this is exactly the problem with the new gym on campus. Just as Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Sophie Aronson, a sophomore at UMass, opts to go to Planet Fitness. As a part of her friend’s membership, the two can go to the gym together at no extra cost.

“The Rec Center is nice, but it’s always super crowded and everyone stares at you,” she said with a laugh. “It’s not always easy to get there during the day if you live off-campus, and the parking is terrible.”

She thinks, however, that the free tanning included in $19.99/month Black Card memberships is the main bait that draws students to the off-campus gym.

The frills of an all-inclusive membership weren’t enough to keep all students going to Planet Fitness. A large handful chose to leave their monthly membership bills behind and now work out at the Rec Center full time. Rogers estimated that after the new gym opened, the Hadley location retained only 80 percent of its student memberships.

Lindsey Leiman, a UMass senior, was formerly a member at Planet Fitness, but after finally visiting the new facility and finding the perfect parking spot, she converted.

“I didn’t even see the inside of the Rec Center until a month or so after it opened,” she said. “I kept going to Planet Fitness just because it was what I was used to, and parking by the Rec Center seemed like a disaster. But when I walked inside, I was pretty angry at myself for not checking it out sooner.”

If both gyms were free, Leiman said that she would probably alternate between the two because they both have their pros and cons, but she said she would ultimately choose the Rec Center.

“It has a wider variety of machines and equipment than any other gym I’ve ever been a member of,” she said. “Plus, it has free classes. You can’t really beat that. I guess the entire package being free doesn’t hurt either.”

Justin Gagnon can be reached at [email protected].

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  • J

    JasonJul 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    I believe everything posted made a great deal of sense.

    But, consider this, what if you composed a catchier post
    title? I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your blog, however suppose you added something that grabbed a person’s attention?

    I mean The Daily Collegian is a little boring. You ought to peek
    at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create news titles to get people to open the links. You might try adding a video or a related pic or two to get readers interested about everything’ve
    got to say. Just my opinion, it might bring your posts a little bit more interesting.

  • J

    JustinNov 3, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    “The Leading Edge gym in Amherst is closing its doors as of October 20, 2010 – another victim of the economic downturn. A decrease in membership – partly related to the opening of Planet Fitness and the Umass gym – has resulted in an inability to meet financial obligations, despite the efforts that were made in May to address the situation.”

    “One of the owners, Peter Earle, who took over full management of the Amherst gym about a year ago resigned from all active involvement in the gym on Friday, October 15. His corporate partner came in immediately and over the next few days determined that the gym had to close.”

    Both are from the cited press release posted on the inside of the Leading Edge’s window.

  • P

    PeteNov 3, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    You could have done a better job with this article and actually interviewed the gym owners to get their opinions. If you had, you would not have written it this way. Also Larry Kelly, the former owner of a gym in South Amherst that closed in June has other opinions which I find would be useful to this article.

    I hope you do a follow up. I will be watching.

  • P

    PeteNov 3, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    The reason the Leading Edge closed was due to fighting between the owners and had nothing to do with UMass or Planet fitness or the economy. The gym was doing well financially and members were loyal