Karen Aho: Urges support for Hampshire Athletic Club

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Each time I pull into the Hampshire Athletic Club these days, my chest tightens. The parking lot is nearly empty. The inside feels abandoned.

With so few members showing up — and surely many suspending their dues — I can’t help but wonder how much longer can the club stay afloat? My fears are hardly farfetched. Two major fitness chains — 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide and Gold’s Gym International — have already filed for bankruptcy this summer, citing coronavirus losses.

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association estimates that one-quarter of America’s fitness clubs could close for good by the end of 2020. An overwhelming majority are, like Hampshire Athletic Club, independently owned.

The Amherst facility has been serving our community since 1970, when it was built as a clubhouse for an Echo Hill swimming pool. I used to tag along with my father, who would meet friends for a sauna and leave us kids to explore — a romp that included giggling turns on a vibrating exercise belt, an 1850s invention that had become a staple of mid-20th century health clubs.

Nearly 50 years later, the same gym — updated, expanded, sold multiple times yet retaining its friendly clubhouse vibe — served as a lifeline for my ailing father. Too disabled to walk or swim laps, he found daily rejuvenation and community in aqua aerobics and lobby banter. “Best decision I ever made,” he said of joining.

It is hard to overstate the value of having a place to go where people greet you by name. Now we have COVID-19. People want to avoid the gym. Many businesses need our support. But my plea to HAC members is this: If you can afford it, please consider sustaining (or reactivating) your gym dues during this time.

Recall that HAC, after sustaining fire damage, hustled to reopen and did not charge monthly members even when it partially reopened. Now it’s our turn to return the support. You may not be using the facilities at the moment. But don’t you want them to be there when you’re ready to return?

Karen Aho