Dozens of gyms and specialty fitness studios are muscling their way into Long Island shopping centers, filling vacancies left as retail stores have closed their doors.
Gym growth is booming as online competition batters brick-and-mortar stores — 2019 is on pace to be a record-breaking year for the number of major store closings in the nation.
Between the third quarters of 2014 and 2018, the number of fitness and recreational sports centers on Long Island increased by 45 locations, or 10.3 percent, to 483, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The trend is mirrored nationwide. The number of fitness tenants in U.S. shopping centers more than doubled between 2008 and 2018, rising from 6,218 to 14,044, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade association in Manhattan.
After years of being shunned by shopping center landlords, gyms and specialty fitness centers such as yoga or pilates studios are in high demand, partly because they are considered traffic drivers to other tenants in retail centers, said Joshua Weinkranz, president of the Northern region for Kimco Realty Corp., based in New Hyde Park.
“And the more traffic you can drive to your shopping center, the better your tenants will perform. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.
Among the other factors driving the gym boom is the fact that Americans, particularly millennials, are increasingly pursuing healthier lifestyles, even as the country contends with record-high obesity rates, experts said.
At the same time, commercial landlords are becoming more aggressive in filling vacated retail space with nonstore tenants, including restaurants in addition to gyms, that aren’t susceptible to online competition.
Income is a factor, too.
Long Islanders have a high median household income, and many are willing to part with it at boutique studios with niche services, such as StretchLab, a franchise that will open in the Woodbury Common shopping center this summer, charging clients $150 to $400 monthly for customized stretching routines.
In the past 12 months at least 25 new large gyms and small fitness studios have opened or announced plans to open on Long Island. They include:
- Crunch Fitness, which has two franchises on Long Island now, plans to open four to six more gym franchises here this year, including one in midsummer in a 31,000-square-foot former Bally Total Fitness in Lake Grove.
- A Blink Fitness franchisee, Allen Pinero, who opened a location in Lindenhurst in March 2018, said he will open a second location, in Farmingdale, in part of a former Waldbaum’s grocery store in September.
- 24 Hour Fitness, whose three gyms on Long Island include a location that opened in Massapequa in December, plans to open a 37,250-square-foot gym in part of a former Waldbaum’s in East Setauket late this year.
- Five franchises of Orangetheory Fitness, a boutique gym, are slated to open this year, including a 3,121-square-foot location that will take part of a former spa space in Airport Plaza in Farmingdale in July. Two others opened earlier this year, in Patchogue and Hewlett.
- Planet Fitness, a chain that has 15 gyms on Long Island and offers membership starting at $10 monthly, said it will open two new gyms by the end of the year. One will be in a portion of a former OfficeMax space in Lawrence, and the other will take over part of a former Waldbaum’s in Stony Brook.
- Irvine, California-based L.A. Fitness, with 15 Long Island locations, this month opened a 16th — a 34,000-square-foot gym in a former Best Buy space in Lawrence.
Crunch Fitness, a Manhattan-based chain with 295 locations, most of which are franchises, expects 80 to 100 more franchises to open annually nationwide, said Ben Midgley, chief executive and founding partner of Crunch Franchise.
Of those, 12 to 15 will open on Long Island in the next two to three years, he said.
In the past, the cost of real estate on Long Island made it difficult for gym chains to expand here, and commercial landlords were reluctant to lease shopping center space to fitness centers because of concerns that gym-goers would monopolize parking that shoppers could be using, Midgley said.
That changed about six years ago, when big-box stores began shutting in droves, leaving large swaths of square footage vacant in shopping centers, he said.
The vacancy rate for shopping centers between 10,000 and 350,000 square feet on Long Island was 7.7 percent in the first quarter of this year, the highest rate since the second quarter of 2002, according to data from Manhattan real estate information company Reis Inc.
The number of major store closings this year is expected to be record-breaking, according to Coresight Research Inc., a Manhattan-based retail analysis provider.
Already this year, the number of announced closings of major U.S. stores exceeds those announced for the full year of 2018 — 7,150 compared with 5,864, according to the firm.
“Coresight Research estimates announced U.S. store closures could reach 12,000 by the end of 2019,” said John Mercer, Coresight senior analyst.
These days, commercial landlords are courting gyms with more favorable lease terms, including lower starting rents, bigger monetary allowances to subsidize buildout costs, and extended rent-free periods while they acquire town building permits, said Dean Rosenzweig, senior vice president in the Melville office of Los Angeles-based real estate firm CBRE.
Gyms offer a lot in return, fitness industry officials said.
For example, Crunch Fitness is one of the rare tenants willing to take a 20,000- to 40,000-square-foot vacancy — its average size is 22,000 square feet — and its average club has about 6,500 members, many of whom will shop at supermarkets and other stores in the same shopping centers, CEO Midgley said.
Long Island’s median income and high population are big drivers for gym growth, said Frank Napolitano, president of 24 Hour Fitness, a San Ramon, California-based chain of 440 fitness clubs in 13 states.
“We will build clubs on Long Island until we can’t find a place to put them,” he said.
The chain’s new gym memberships grow quickly, drawing a range of ages from millennials to baby boomers, he said.
24 Hour Fitness, with membership fees averaging $45 a month, falls in the traditional multipurpose club category, which includes L.A. Fitness.
Several members of the new gyms said they offered benefits lacking in older Long Island facilities.
Amityville resident Claudia Lattibeaudiere, 54, had belonged to various gyms off and on for 15 years before she and her husband joined a 24 Hour Fitness that opened in Massapequa in December, she said.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen results with my body changing,” Lattibeaudiere said of her weight loss and gain in body tone since she began working out six days a week in January.
Her consistent effort was spurred by the friendly atmosphere and encouraging staff, she said after working up a sweat on an indoor skiing machine and taking directions from master trainer Chad Williams.
Farmingdale resident Mayra Portillo, 35, also was in the 24 Hour Fitness, working out with trainer Cornell Warrick. She had been a member of another gym in Farmingdale for two years before joining 24 Hour Fitness in January, she said.
“I like the people, how they treat one another. The place is clean,” and there are more machines, said Portillo, who works out five days a week.
As for whether Long Island is headed for a market oversaturated with gyms, most fitness company executives interviewed said the market doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
“If you have a differentiated proposition like we do, you don’t really worry about that. As long as you’re meeting the needs of your consumer base, you don’t have to worry so much about competition,” said Todd Magazine, chief executive officer of the Manhattan-based chain Blink Fitness.
Founded in 2011, Blink Fitness has exercise equipment but no classes at its gyms, and its monthly membership fee starts at $15 on Long Island. The chain has 80 locations nationwide, including nine locally.
Blink Fitness locations bring in 1,000 gym check-ins a day on average, he said.
“So think about bringing in 1,000 people a day to a center. That’s a benefit to a retailer that’s trying to compete with many of the online retailers,” Magazine said.
Lindenhurst resident Christie Linich, 50, has been working out at Blink Fitness seven days a week since shortly after the gym opened in her community in March 2018.
She has lost 75 pounds — results she was never able to accomplish after 15 years of joining different gyms — and she attributes her success in part to the gym’s layout, cleanliness and encouraging staff, she said.
She sees the proliferation of gyms as giving consumers more options.
“I think the people will try out gyms and see what they like and stick with what works for them,” Linich said.
Switching It Up
Last year, a record high of 71.5 million consumers used fitness centers, according to an April 2019 report from IHRSA (International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association), a Boston-based trade group.
Studio/boutique chains are seeing the most membership growth — up 121 percent between 2013 and 2017 to 18.2 million people, or 40 percent of gym members, according to the report. By comparison, membership in commercial fitness centers grew 18 percent.
Millennials are driving growth in many of the boutique studios, said Meredith Poppler, spokeswoman for IHRSA. And today’s exercisers are not afraid to spread their workouts around, instead of belonging to a single gym.
“Now, with the proliferation of studios and exercise packages not dependent on membership, many people frequent many different types of gyms: say a yoga studio on Monday, a boot-camp facility on Wednesday, a boxing gym on Friday and even a multi-purpose family club on the weekend,” she said.
For clients, the specialized workouts offered by boutiques and small studios are worth the premium prices they command. For commercial landlords, the studios bring “high-quality customers” with disposable incomes who will shop in their centers, said Jason Sobel, an agent who works in the Jericho office of Ripco Real Estate Corp.
Furthermore, the boutique studios are often franchises, which are attractive to landlords because they have corporate support to help them succeed, unlike independent mom-and-pop stores, he said.
Some of the new studio/boutique chains planned for Long Island this year:
- Australian chain F45, which offers 45-minute, high-intensity, circuit-training classes, has franchise leases signed to open its first three Long Island locations, ranging from 2,200 to 2,500 square feet, in Huntington, Massapequa and Hauppauge this year, said Dennis McCoy, senior director in the Melville real estate office of NAI Long Island, who represents the franchisee.
- CityRow, a rowing studio, is going through the permitting process and expects to open its first Long Island location in a new 1,846-square-foot space in the Country Pointe Plainview retail and residential development later this year, said Stefani Stenberg, a senior associate in the Melville office of CBRE, which represents the chain in lease negotiations.
- A Mayweather Boxing + Fitness, one of the boxing franchises sold by professional boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., is awaiting North Hempstead building permits to open its first Long Island location — a 2,201-square-foot studio at 1579 Northern Blvd. in Manhasset in a former kitchen showroom, said Sobel, who co-represented the landlord.
- A 2,000-square-foot Club Pilates and 2,844-square-foot Fit Body Boot Camp, both franchises, will open in Stew Leonard’s Plaza in East Meadow this year, said Daniel Glazer, a vice president at Ripco who is the exclusive broker on Long Island for Club Pilates’ parent company, Irvine, California-based Xponential Fitness, and its eight different fitness chains, including StretchLab and CycleBar.