Hampshire Athletic Club in Amherst re-opens after fire

  • The sign outside of Hampshire Athletic Club in Amherst.  STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • Perry Messer overlooks some of the damage from a fire at Hampshire Athletic Club.  STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • What remains of the front desk of Hampshire Athletic Club after a fire in early November left the gym closed for more than three weeks.  STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • The outside of the fire-damaged part of Hampshire Athletic Club. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

Staff Writer
Friday, November 29, 2019

AMHERST — Since the Hampshire Athletic Club closed following a fire earlier this month, owner Perry Messer said he has been working 15-hour days, seven days a week to get his gym up and running again.

And though the work is far from done — Messer and a group of friends are still gutting the club’s scorched entrance, cardiovascular and office spaces — the business reopened to members on Tuesday.

“The way I look at it is, basically, it’s an inconvenience,” Messer said on Wednesday, his hands black with soot and dirt from working on the damaged part of his gym, located at 90 Gatehouse Road. “But you have to look at something that knocks you down as an opportunity to make it better.”

Most of the work in the past three weeks has been portioning off damaged areas of the building from spaces that could still be used, Messer said. He estimates the total damage from the fire, including $300,000 in 45 pieces of lost cardio equipment, to be over $1 million, adding he has “good” coverage under Amherst Insurance Agency. Around 85 percent of the gym’s previous offerings are available, Messer said, except for towel service, massage therapy and child day-care.

The fire started late on the night of Nov. 1 in the gym’s dryer room. The blaze has been ruled accidental, Messer said, and he does not have a time frame on when renovations on the damaged part of the building will be complete. 

Smoke had made its way into most of the building, Messer said, adding that he and his friends spent time cleaning and re-painting some areas so it can be used while the damaged part of the building is being worked on. 

A temporary entrance leads members to a makeshift front desk in what once was solely a free weight room; a space that had cross braces removed in the weeks after the fire to make more space for members to work out. Strength training equipment is still available, as well as the gym’s basketball court and some cardiovascular machines that line a balcony overlooking those who are shooting hoops. 

Red fire doors have lost some of their color from residual black stains left by smoke. Down a hallway that Messer said had to be cleaned as well, tennis courts are operable and so are aerobics and stretching rooms reached only by a stairwell that was formerly only used by staff.

Ductwork around the building had to be cleaned from the fire, as well as many electrical wires running through the gym that had to be removed as they were damaged, Messer said.

Men’s and women’s locker rooms had to be cleaned and remediated due to water damage from firefighters putting out the fire above. The pool, which is now open for business, was saved by what Messer said are fire-retardant windows that didn’t blow out during the blaze.

“If that hadn’t been there, the heat would have blown the windows out,” Messer recalled an Amherst firefighter telling him about the windows. “Oxygen outside would have been sucked in and we wouldn’t have anything here, it would have been gone.”

Walking through the damaged portion of the business, Messer said the fire will eventually allow him to realize a brand-new space, the details of which he didn’t disclose as he still needs to start looking at plans that will eventually be cleared by Amherst officials.

“That’s one thing we’ve done since we took over this club, is constantly try to upgrade,” he said. “To make it better for our customers.”

Messer, who also owns the Northampton Athletic Club at 306 King St., said that his customers who are looking for child day-care services in Amherst can go to Northampton in the interim. When Hampshire Athletic Club was closed, customers could use their membership in Northampton. 

Messer said he is thankful for the support his friends and business colleagues have shown him in the face of the incident, saying their around-the-clock help has allowed the club to re-open faster. 

“They’ve gone above and beyond,” he said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.