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Pumping Up Downtown's Economy  

By Jason Mandell
Special to The Lookout

March 3, 2010 -- Tucked away on Second Street just south of Santa Monica Boulevard, the 24 Hour Fitness gym has the look and feel of an urban loft – brick walls, exposed beams and a wood ceiling with skylights.

During a recent lunch hour, the treadmills and elliptical machines are packed. The club, says gym manager Ashley Sisson, has been noticeably busier since the new year began, which may reflect New Years resolutions being kept or a slowly improving local economy.

“The first week of January was the craziest,” says Sisson, who greets members by name as they arrive at the gym, which opened five years ago. “We know everyone who walks through the door.”

As hundreds of new residents fill the more than 1,000 housing units that have gone up Downtown and the number of office workers around the area swells to more than 30,000, a growing number of gyms is thriving on the concentrated client base.

“We’ve got a relatively active population Downtown,” says Rob York, a consultant for the Bayside District Corporation. “Gyms are probably a more regular part of the lifestyle here than in a typical neighborhood. . . The expansion of the office and residential population are the core pieces of gyms’ business.”

From the busy professional who squeezes in a bi-weekly run on the treadmill to the steadfast muscle-builder to the yoga lover, gym goers have a choice of venues that offer a healthy escape from the hustle and bustle outside their walls.

“Given the long hours here, putting the gym in is a very natural piece of the equation,” says York. “It fits into the rhythm of the urban lifestyle for people who work and live downtown.”

The Easton Gym, located above the Adidas store on the northern end of Third Street Promenade, is the oldest fitness club in the downtown district. Founded in Hollywood in 1938 and serving Santa Monica since 1993, Easton offers a classic, no-nonsense atmosphere with a decidedly local and loyal clientele.

On a recent Monday afternoon Jon Hurteau, a 35-year-old freelance writer and Santa Monica resident, is jogging on a treadmill beside several other members of the Easton gym.

“A lot of people who come here have lived in Santa Monica for years,” Hurteau says. “You can make real friendships here."

“It’s like a family in here,” agrees front desk employee Christina Veverka, who describes the gym’s environment as “relaxed.”

Easton offers cycling, yoga and cardio classes in its facility, which overlooks the Promenade. Treadmill runners can watch television in the main workout room, and a number of other machines have their own personal TVs. French doors on one end of the facility are often left open, ushering in a soothing ocean breeze.

Easton saw a spike in memberships in January, Veverka says, though she adds that many often wait until February to start following through on their commitments to enhance personal fitness.

Hurteau, who has been working out regularly for the past decade, says the new year didn’t prompt him to increase his exercise regimen. “I don’t make resolutions,” he explains. “Keeping fit and staying healthy is part of my life.”

One block south on the Promenade is Burn Fitness, which opened in 2006 and is the newest gym in the Downtown area. Perched four floors above the street, Burn is pristine, white-walled and full of natural light.

“On a clear day you can see the ocean,” says Kejo Thomas, the club’s front desk manager. She notes that the final episode of last season’s “The Rachel Zoe Project,” the popular Bravo fashion television series, was filmed at Burn.


Three flat-screen televisions hang in the upstairs exercise room, and the cardio machines have their own TVs. A balcony overlooking the Promenade sometimes serves as an additional workout area.

Downstairs, the gym’s spinning room has more than two dozen bikes. One of the club’s perks is that its vending machines don’t require cash; members can use their membership cards to purchase snacks.

The economic recession has had a minimal impact on the gym’s business, Thomas says. “It affected us a little bit,” she explains. “Some people had to downgrade their membership levels, but luckily we’re still doing okay.”

She adds that fitness seems to be a priority for Santa Monica residents and workers, even in financially straining times. “Even though some people have lost their jobs, they still find a way to come to the gym for their own sanity,” says Thomas.

Around the corner from Burn, 24 Hour Fitness offers a full roster of classes, including yoga, pilates and turbo kick. Its comfortable facility features cardio equipment, circuit training, free weights and group exercise.

John Wog, a 31-year-old sales coordinator who lives in downtown Santa Monica, has been a member of 24 Hour Fitness’ Second Street location for four years. “I love the atmosphere,” says Wog, who adds that the club is popular among working professionals.

The gym attracts both casual exercisers and serious athletes. Wog counts himself among the latter; he competes in “ultra runs,” which draw those runners who are easily bored by ordinary marathons.

Though he runs on the Santa Monica boardwalk, Wog does all of his upper body training at 24 Hour Fitness. After finishing first in his division in the 50-mile ultra run outside Las Vegas, Wog's goal for 2010 is to run 2,010 miles. “Last week I did 98,” he laughs.

While all of Santa Monica’s gyms offer the same basic features, they each have their own specific touches that target certain demographics.

“People are looking for different things in their gyms,” notes York. “There are different price points, different amenities.”

Equinox sits on the corner of Second Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. Large windows in its bright lobby overlook the busy street.

Before entering the gym, visitors pass a countertop run by Earth Bar, a Los Angeles-based company that offers a range of snacks and supplements for the health-conscious. The products are made with ingredients from organic farms. In addition to freshly blended juices and nutrition and weight-loss supplements, Earth Bar offers free nutritional advice and consultation.

The gym itself is modern, airy and inviting, with lime green and sky blue permeating the décor. Equinox’s amenities include a steam room, full-service spa and kids’ club. The gym’s class roster features such offerings as “power sculpt,” “yoga fusion” and “buff ballet barre.”

Added perks include complimentary parking, a Mac computer in the lobby, and wireless internet. Equinox’s shop features apparel and products from many of the fitness industry’s most popular brands.

While downtown gyms are plowing ahead into the new year, York cautions that Santa Monica’s struggling business climate could rein in business.

“Gyms are not a requirement for everybody,” he explains. “They feel the economic downturn as most businesses do.”

But for now, York says, the gyms are in good shape. “We’re fortunate that at this point they all seem to be hanging in there," he says. “It appears they’re holding up reasonably well.”


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