New, affordable gym brands, like Planet Fitness and Blink Fitness, have opened in the Bronx to meet a booming demand for workout options
When doctors look at obesity rates in the Bronx, they see a problem. Two of three adults in the borough are obese or overweight.
But when fitness clubs look at the statistics, they see an opportunity. The Bronx is undergoing a weight room boom, with local and national chains suddenly competing for patrons in neighborhoods far outside Manhattan.
Jim Somoza, chief development officer at Crunch Fitness, said the trend is a win-win: gym brands can expand and promote healthy living at the same time.
“Everybody is growing in the outer boroughs right now,” Somoza said. “The interest in the Bronx is about density and lack of competition. The outer boroughs have been ignored over the years.”
Low-cost gyms are driving the trend, he said. Crunch currently operates pricey clubs in Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn but is planning to launch a no-frills line soon, starting in the Bronx.
Planet Fitness was the first low-cost chain to achieve nationwide success and the first to target the Bronx, said brand manager John Craig. The New Hampshire-based company had no gyms in the borough just a few years ago.
That changed fast. Planet Fitness currently boasts eight gyms in the Bronx, more than it operates in any other borough. It charges $10 per month.
“We realized that there was a lack of competition,” Craig said. “[The Bronx] was overlooked.”
He said the response has been overwhelming; Bronx residents are desperate to exercise.
“People have embraced our product with a passion,” he said.
Meanwhile, competitors have been taking notes. Blink Fitness, a low-cost line launched in 2011 by the upscale Manhattan chain Equinox, is sprinting to catch up.
The new brand recently opened a gym in Melrose and plans to add Parkchester and Concourse Village locations soon. Blink gyms cost $15-20 per month; Equinox clubs cost $170.
“The Bronx offers us a good business opportunity in harmony with what our corporate culture is. We want to open doors to better health for the community,” said Dos Condon, vice president.
Blink patron Frank Fajar, 46, said the fitness club boom could be linked to the overall revitalization of the Bronx. The Melrose gym is located on the ground floor of a huge new housing complex.
“When I grew up here, this was all rubble,” the retired NYPD cop said. “Now there are businesses coming, people buying property.”
Before Blink opened, Fajar drove to a gym in faraway Co-op City. The Bronx boasts beautiful parks and recently added a free outdoor gym for adults, but many residents are scared to exercise outside due to crime, Fajar said.
Melrose resident Gesary Huff, 31, switched to Blink from a more costly club in Manhattan.
She said more of her Bronx friends would work out if they had access to clean, cheap gyms.
“This is good for the neighborhood,” said Huff, a stylist who recently lost 45 pounds. “I can walk here and walk home. It encourages people to be healthy.”
Crunch hopes to open its first low-cost gym at the Kingsbridge Armory. The brand is part of a bid to redevelop the vacant structure.
“The issue with Manhattan is rent,” Somoza said. “It can be hard to make an operation work there. But the Bronx is huge and there are a lot of people up there who want to work out.”