LACONIA — For decades, the place to go to work out in Laconia was on North Main Street, a building built as a YMCA and then operated as the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club. When financial pressures caused that business to abruptly close in 2015, trainers and members found themselves without a home.
Into that vacuum sprang two clubs, The Downtown Gym, first on Main Street and now on Fair Street, and then the 30,000-square-foot Fit Focus, located on the street level of the parking garage near City Hall, each vying for the orphaned exercisers from LASC.
Then, in the spring of last year, the building on North Main re-opened as The Wellness Complex, having been purchased by Charlie Mabardy, a businessman who also owns a health club in Concord.
So, where one gym had served Laconia for so many years, how would three fare? Fairly well, according to the people who run them. They have found a way to exist in a crowded marketplace by offering a slightly different experience from their competitors.
First into the gap left by the Athletic and Swim Club’s closing was The Downtown Gym, which in 2016 opened in the Colonial Theatre block of Main Street. It’s now at the corner of Fair and Water streets, in the former Citizen newspaper building.
Janine Page, who had led classes at LASC, said it’s the class workouts that have come to be The Downtown Gym’s specialty.
“We have a huge variety of instructors and a lot of knowledge,” said Page, the club’s owner, adding that all of the instructors there have at least three years of experience.
Page said The Downtown Gym has attracted a broad clientele, from people in their 20s to senior citizens, from triathletes to people who come in a wheelchair. She said she is happy to work with doctors and other medical providers to tailor exercise for an individual’s goals. One of their breakout successes has been Rock Steady Boxing, a boxing-based workout class for people who have Parkinson’s disease.
How’s business been? It comes and goes seasonally, Page said, but there’s a stable base for her business.
“I feel like we have a really good core of members who believe in the club and what the club stands for,” she said.
There’s room for a few more members, but she said she doesn’t want to lose the “personal touch” atmosphere.
“Our goal is to grow so that we’re a little bit stronger, but I’ve never had the vision to be so big that we don’t know who we have … We have a lot of people that like that we know their names.”
Fit Focus, which opened two years ago, is owned and operated by brothers Brandon and Derek Borghi.
“We’re a big-box health club,” Derek said.
Their calling card is to have not just one of everything, but dozens of everything. Treadmills, ellipticals, stationary cycles, free weights ... there’s equipment to spare at Fit Focus. They have group classes and babysitting, and they’ve been able to tap into the supply of talent coming out of Plymouth State University to offer personal trainers to members.
“We offer a little bit of everything,” Brandon said. It’s been working for them, he said, to the point where they’ve increased their initial investment by performing a $100,000 lighting upgrade to the building and planning an HVAC upgrade — the current system is about 40 years old — for next summer.
The Borghis, who have spent summers in Alton and have connections to New Hampton School, were familiar with the Lakes Region, both its advantages and challenges. They set a modest goal for their first two years and, it turned out, underestimated how well their club would do in Laconia.
“We have a good amount of members,” Brandon said. “We are exceeding our expectations here. When we first came here, we weren’t sure if Laconia was going to be successful. It’s been unbelievable.”
In the spring of 2018, The Downtown Gym and Fit Focus were joined by a revitalized swim club, rebranded as The Wellness Complex. Frances Plunkett, manager of the club, said her gym has been able to carve out its own identity.
“We’re happy, we’re progressing,” she said.
Of course, her trump card is an Olympic-sized swimming pool, something that the competition can’t match.
The Wellness Complex has therefore attracted people who prefer water-based workouts, but Plunkett said they’ve been able to craft another identity, as a place that’s as much about connecting with friends as it is about burning calories.
“We always wanted to focus on wellness, not just the gym. We wanted to address the full wellness,” she said.
Members are encouraged to socialize through special programs such as a float night at the pool, a craft fair, pumpkin carving, a blood drive, and a book for members and staff to share healthy recipes.
“What I’ve found is that the people here are becoming a really good community, a family,” Plunkett said. “I believe people are looking for different things. Sometimes it’s just the people and the atmosphere. Some people are trying to bang out a workout, other people are looking for something more social. Or if someone wants to branch out their workout because it’s getting stagnant, we feel we have a lot to offer in that way.”