Turning a former movie theater into a gym can be a formidable task. Take, for example, the sloped floors of a theater, which aren’t conducive to exercise.
But that task was finished two weekends ago at the former Carmike Cinemas in River Ridge mall and on Tuesday, Planet Fitness opened its doors.
The space had been empty since the Carmike closed in 2009, when the Regal theaters opened at the mall.
“It was a very large construction job to get this done,” said owner Bill Asbell, who also has Planet Fitness franchises in Roanoke and Chesterfield County. “We hope Lynchburg likes it.”
The opening of the gym comes at a time of year when many are thinking of New Year’s resolutions. Asbell said the timing wasn’t tied to the holiday — he would rather have opened when cold weather first came in, such as the beginning of November. He said he hopes those with healthy resolutions will give his gym a look.
The 16,500-square-foot gym is open 24 hours a day during the week – from 5 a.m. on Monday to Friday at 9 p.m. – and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Mall general manager Harvey Lindsay said adding a gym to the mall, something it has never had before, is what consumers indicated they wanted.
“I think the change reflects the changing demands from consumers,” he said.
Lindsay said Planet Fitness should be a big draw for the mall.
“We think it’s going to attract thousands of people,” he said.
Asbell said Lynchburg was a good location for a new gym because of the size of the area’s population. He said it also is a good fit because of the local colleges, which bring in a new crop of potential members each school year.
Manager Eli Tozar said that on the first day, there were 80 new membership signups.
The health club offers two types of membership. For $10 a month, people can use the gym. For $19.99 a month, the “black card” membership gives unlimited tanning and red light therapy – which Tozar said restores collagen back to skin. Black card members also can bring guests, use the massage chairs and work out at out-of-town Planet Fitness locations.
This is the second gym to open in the city in the past several months. In September, Kinetix opened in to the Fort Hill Shopping Center.
Manager David Gillespie said Kinetix now has more than 1,300 members in the area. He said he knew Planet Fitness was coming when Kinetix was opened and is not concerned with more competition.
“There is enough need for what we do,” Gillespie said.
Planet Fitness has 35 treadmills, 24 elliptical machines and five tanning beds as well as 16 high-definition TVs, Tozar said.
“You can get a massage in front of a big screen TV,” he said.
Members can also get free workout routines through a trainer, Tozar said.
Asbell said they try to cater to the general public and not the body-builder crowd. He said the gym tries to foster a judgment-free atmosphere so members of all fitness types can feel comfortable working out there. A message on one wall in purple writing says, “You belong!”
He said the gym has a low tolerance for “lunk head” behavior, such as excessive grunting or weight dropping, which can cause a lot of noise. The gym has an alarm that employees can turn on for cases in which similar behavior occurs, Asbell said.
“It’s all in fun I think,” he said. “We want to create that atmosphere that everyone feels comfortable in.”