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Members Mobilize To Save Gym

All-women gym might close if new members don’t sign up fast.

A group of baby boomers in Burke have found their dream gym: an inviting atmosphere, quality exercise equipment, friendly faces and nice owners, without the distraction many of them say men and 20-somethings with perfect bodies bring to most gyms.

“We’re like a big family here,” said Lorraine Wong, 2 1/2-year member of the ladies-only gym in the Burke Village shopping center.

Joallyn George and Karen Chiao, sisters and owners of Ladies Workout Express, 9530-A Burke Road, plan on closing the gym at the end of the month because they’ve been operating at a loss for too long. They might be able to keep it open though, as long as they can double the amount of members who work out there by July 31. George said she realizes her investment into the place is gone, but she’s still willing to stay open as long as she can break even each month. Right now, the gym has little more than 150 members, and that many more is what she needs to keep the place afloat.

“It was just like we were invisible for whatever reason,” said George.

But members of the gym have been trying to change that ever since they heard about their gym’s proposed closing date. Many have been asking friends and neighbors to join, and some have even passed out flyers around town encouraging new membership.

“They [the owners] show a personal interest in everyone’s well-being,” said Jacqui Tucker, member. “This is a warm, caring place.”

ONE OF THE PERKS of the gym, said many members, is that the owners aren’t too strict on contracts. When women have had injuries or personal reasons for not coming in, the owners place their memberships on hold and don’t require payment during the time they need off. This, said George, may have been one of their downfalls, but she doesn’t regret it.

“We’re here as a service to our ladies,” said George.

The gym uses the same circuit training approach as Curves, the national chain of ladies-only gyms with three locations surrounding the Ladies Workout Express, and more than 9,500 locations worldwide. Ladies Workout Express members said it was hard for the owners to compete with Curves' level of advertising capability, which has contributed to the gym’s demise.

“I’m going to miss this place terribly,” said Tetyana Wittkowski. “It’s a very upbeat feeling here.”

Even with an addition of 150 members, current members said they aren’t worried about the place getting too crowded. The gym has plenty of room now, and based on the different times of day that everyone goes to the gym, current members said doubling the number of members would only add to the gym’s atmosphere.

“We just feel nurtured here,” said Cricket Camp. “I come here and work out, but I also get an inner good feeling.”

Ina Downey said she remembers a time when the power went out and one of the owners called her at home to tell her not to come in that evening. Downey always works out around the same time of day, and the owners and staff at the gym are perceptive and thoughtful enough to call you at home, said Downey.

THE LADIES WORKOUT Express began as a place to help women get into shape, and ended up serving as a sanctuary for friendship, laughter and some exercise too.

“I have been a member since January 2005, and I have lost 22 pounds, lots of inches, but the friends that I have gained far out number that,” said Diane Dillow.

“I go there to see my girlfriends and I happen to exercise while I’m there,” said Laura Deter.

All of the members working out Saturday, July 15, said they owed their love for the gym to George and Chiao. They take care of their members, said Ellen Rose. Since opening close to three years ago, they have brought in a sauna, added cardiovascular machines and a filtered water system for members. When Chiao needed a ride home from the airport one evening, George said a member went to pick her up. When Chiao’s daughter moved to California, the members helped throw her a going away party.

“The owners are wonderful people,” said Rose. “It’s going to be hard to see them leave.”

But they won’t actually leave, because the friendships at the Ladies Workout Express have been formed for good. It is that friendship that George wants to remain so loyal to, as loyal as staying open for no profit at all. And she will, as long as 150 new friends join the family known as the Ladies Workout Express.

“Everyone loves this place,” said Anne Murphy. “I look forward to coming to work out.”