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Alexandria Has Curves

Business Profile

The largest fitness franchise in the world has come to Alexandria. And, it is specifically oriented toward women.

Known as Curves, it boasts 6,000 locations in North America and Europe. Last week, Mayor William Euille and Vice Mayor Redella Pepper visited the new city location at The Shops of Foxchase on Duke Street as part of Alexandria Economic Development Partnership's Mayor's Local Business Outreach Program."

Initiated to establish close relationships with Alexandria business owners, the MLBOP's goal is to identify and address any needs or concerns of business people as well as to hear of their experiences, good and bad, first-hand, according to Paula R.W. Riley, executive director, AEDP.

Curves, which opened its doors in mid-July, already boasts a membership of 450 and expects to top 1,000 by its first anniversary, said Jim Gasson, owner of the 2,000-square-foot facility. He has been involved in the health and fitness industry for more than 20 years.

"Many women who go into other gyms feel intimidated," Gasson explained. "We provide a total body workout that they can complete in 30 minutes. If our members have families and jobs, 30 minutes is just the right amount of time."

The regimen involves moving from machine to machine over the 30 minute span directed by a tape and aided by instructors. "Everybody moves in tandem," Gasson said.

"This is really fantastic," Euille said. "It's very beneficial and almost like a drive-thru concept."

Pepper seconded his enthusiasm. "This is really well done. It's not only beneficial, but bright and cheerful at the same time. And, it's right near where I live.".

Cindy Sullivan, a partner with Gasson at the Alexandria location, also owns four other Curves franchises. Three of those are in Chesapeake, in the Tidewater area, and another in Woodbridge. The latter is operated in conjunction with her daughter.

"I have found that women in Northern Virginia seem to be more aware of the benefits of exercise," Sullivan said. "This format is particularly beneficial to their lifestyles."

GASSON NOTED that many women prefer the comfort and safety of a female-friendly environment for their workouts. "Curves provides that comfort level. Plus, the workout is simple, very effective, and fun. We measure and monitor their successes each month. And, we offer ongoing follow-up support," Gasson assured.

ButCurves' opening was nearly thwarted by a city requirement that all health clubs in the city provide showers for the use of health club patrons. Additionally, that requirement specified one shower for each 40 patrons during the period of maximum facility use.

Gasson said, "I went to the City Health Department and explained our concept and pointed out that only about 100 Curves operations out of the 6,000 had showers. It would have prevented me from opening here."

It was also noted by Council and the City Planning Commission that "subsequent to the city's adoption of the model regulations, several jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have amended their versions of the regulations concerning health clubs" by removing this requirement.

This left Alexandria as the only jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to still require the installation of showers in health clubs. To correct this, a special resolution, prepared by the City Health Department, was passed and signed by then Mayor Kerry Donley on June 10, 2003, making Alexandria's requirements more consistent with those of surrounding jurisdictions.

THIS PAVED THE way for the Planning Commission to issue the Special Use Permit allowing Gasson to open his Curves franchise sans showers. He is now searching, with the help of AEDP, for a second Alexandria location.

Initially launched by pre-med student Gary Heavin who took over a failing fitness center in Houston, he opened six centers within the first five years. But, after 10 years and 17 centers, Heavin's business went under, according to Entrepreneur's "Franchise Zone."

In 1992, Heavin, having learned from his first venture, opened "Curves for Women" in Harlingen, Texas. He began franchising in 1995.

Today, it is ranked second among all franchises, out-ranked only by Subway, and the top low-cost franchise.

More than 2.1 million women rely on Curves to meet their health and fitness goals, according to industry statistics. The Curves program addresses three main areas: exercise, diet and lifestyle. "The program is designed for women to lose body fat and stop perpetual dieting," Gasson explained.

"A lot of women don't get strength training at a regular gym. These exercises are designed to reverse osteoporosis by raising the metabolism to burn fat," he said. "Because the amount of muscle in the body is directly correlated with the metabolic rate, a higher metabolism burns more calories."

Gasson noted, "With traditional exercise programs, a 20 pound loss can mean an eight pound loss of lean muscle. That contributes to slowing down the metabolism. This reduces burned calories by 400 per day and the weight comes back."

Membership in Curves amounts to about $1 per day. For additional information call 703-751-2500 or visit their center located through the doorway between the florist shop and West End Dinner Theater.