By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
LA Fitness will close the former BAC coed branch at the Eastern Hills Mall at the end of the month. The Boulevard Mall location will close sometime in July and, after that, the vestiges of the former BAC coed clubs will be the downtown branch and recently remodeled branch in Orchard Park.
That was the word this morning from a staffer at the Eastern Hill branch, where signs on the front door and group fitness room doors informed club members that the branch would close at 2 p.m. May 31 and “relocate” to an existing 45,000-square-foot LA Fitness club less than a mile north on Transit Road in the Walmart Plaza. Both clubs are in Clarence.
Two former BACs in Rochester, also both near newer LA Fitness sites, also will close in the coming weeks, according to staffers in the region.
New LA Fitness clubs will open soon near the Boulevard Mall in Amherst and the McKinley Mall in Hamburg. Local staffers are not authorized to speak for the West Coast-based corporate chain. LA Fitness corporate officials have not returned several phone calls and emails left by Buffalo News reporters since LA Fitness late last year purchased four BAC coed clubs in Buffalo and three others in Rochester.
A look at the chain’s website today shows a new store will open soon at 3188 Sheridan Drive in Amherst, at Niagara Falls Boulevard. The site has no information about the branch closings but staffers at the Boulevard Mall have been telling club members for months that it will close when the Sheridan Drive location opens.
Such has not been the case along Transit Road, where fitness club members and staff have been told that the chain expected enough traffic to keep the Eastern Hills and Walmart Plaza stores open.
Still, the closings will come as no great surprise to most members – including dozens who have emailed me in recent months.
Those who’ve continued to visit former Eastern Hills and Boulevard Mall BACs have seen flagging attendance in favor of the newer LA Fitness branches that opened last year in Clarence, North Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
While those clubs bustle, rarely are there times when fitness equipment is unavailable to members.
Vinny Di Re Jr., owner of the All Juiced Up! nooks in the newer Buffalo-area LA Fitness Clubs, told me several weeks ago where he has been asked to open new juice bars. You can read what he said here. Check out the end of that blog post.
The vast majority of former BAC-new LA Fitness members already have made the move to the newer LA Fitness clubs. Most of those who’ve continued to attend the former BAC locations have done so for fitness classes, not the older cardio and Cybex training equipment.
LA Fitness is not known for its fitness classes, but has given them a go in its Western New York clubs in part to appease former BAC members.
Still, this morning, part-time group fitness instructors were shocked as they arrived at the Eastern Hills branch and saw the relocation signs. They told those in their classes that the chain had not notified them of the club closing in advance, and expressed the hope that LA Fitness would expand class schedules in their remaining clubs.
While it may be easy to conclude LA Fitness is learning that the WNY fitness club scene is a buyer’s market, veteran personal trainers and owners have told me for months to expect these closings as part of the chain’s North American expansion strategy.
Chris Salisbury, owner of Hive: Lifespan Center and a former Gold’s Gym manager, was among them.
Here’s what he told me earlier this year:
LA Fitness needed to buy the BAC and Rochester Athletic Club coed facilities to gather the volume needed after committing to Western New York, Salisbury said.
BAC ownership won because it got a very attractive purchase offer from the West Coast chain, an amount neither company has disclosed. BAC can now focus completely on its growing womens’ clubs, and already is talking about expanding those options and renovating its existing spots.
LA Fitness wins, said Salisbury, because it knocks out its chief competition in the region and will skim off a significant number of former BAC coed members.
The YMCA and dozens of smaller gyms win because people are taking a closer look at them, including thousands of ex-BACers.
"I don’t think the consumer loses, either," Salisbury said. "It forced change. There’s so many options out there, there’s a right fit for everybody."