LA Fitness closure and COVID postponements are changing the landscape of Evanston’s health clubs

With the closure of Evanston Health Club LA Fitness in mid-April and the changes that have occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate at Evanston Health Club has changed.

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The city’s economic development manager, Paul Zalmezak, who spoke with LA Fitness Club corporate headquarters when the closure was announced, said the company made the decision due to low sales of new memberships as well as the high cost of doing business in Evanston. He said the space vacated by the club is approximately 58,000 square feet and costs the club more than $2 million in rent each year. With a decline in membership from around 5,000 to 3,500, the association was unable to cover its expenses.

“There have been interesting community efforts to get the company to keep the Evanston site open,” Zalemezak said. “Alderman [Clare] Kelly spoke to LA Fitness’ corporate headquarters and asked what would be needed. Corporate has decided not to do it.”

Zalmezak said the loss of the gym is meaningful to many of Evanston’s downtown residents. Silver Sneakers, an exercise program for older adults paid for by Medicare, was hosted by LA Fitness in Evanston. “We reached out to other gyms [about hosting the program]but some are too small to accommodate Silver Sneakers and it is not offered at Evanston Athletic Club.”

Evanston Athletic Club Instructor Cynthia Narcisi (on stage) demonstrates for enthusiastic students in her Hula Hoop Core Challenge class.

Will Roberts, customer service manager at Evanston Athletic Club, 1723 Benson Ave., said membership has increased. “We’ve had a big surge lately due to the closure of LA Fitness,” Roberts said. “Our business in general is up about 50% in terms of walk-ins, membership sales and inquiries.”

Izzy Libmann, owner of TruFit, a private personal training studio at 610 Davis St. in downtown Evanston, said that some of the trainers who lost their jobs at LA Fitness came to train from TruFit and that the studio’s offering has changed a number of ways.

“Everyone went online and did training on Zoom and that seems to be the way to go for now. And we now have customers who live in different states. That will remain,” said Libmann. “We also found that we no longer have to work in split shifts that we used to do before and after [9-5] working hours. It wasn’t a healthy way of running my business, but my clients started working from home and were able to take an hour for lunch.”

Libmann said the new post-COVID model for trainers allows for a healthier workload: “Trainers are much better off at TruFit than they are at LA Fitness, trainers can set their own hours and rates, they train how they see fit , and they make more money.”

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