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What’s up at Uptown Fitness?

Still more questions than answers after downtown business closes

POSTED: January 30, 2008 5:04 a.m.
Marreon Tyre rose early on Jan. 2, braving the crisp, winter morning as she walked up to the doors of Uptown Fitness for a 6 a.m. aerobics class.

But those doors were locked.

The lights were off in the building. And no one responded to her knocking.

"The sign on the door said ‘Closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day’ and would reopen on the second (of January), but they didn’t," Tyre said.

Tyre, who had been a member of the fitness gym on Bradford Street for about one year, said she was perplexed.

"I sat out in the parking lot for about 20 minutes with four other cars before I left," she said. Not only did Tyre miss out on her work out class, she also had personal belongings stowed away in her locker located inside the Uptown Fitness building.

Karen Love, an employee of the Uptown Fitness child care center, also arrived at the gym that morning to find that the business still appeared to be closed at 9 a.m.

"There was nobody there. It was locked and the lights were off and everything," Love said. "They never told me (anything) and they never told the members (anything) either."

Not only were fitness classes and personal training sessions scheduled for Jan. 2, the first day the business was slated to reopen after the holidays, but Love said that it was also payday.

She says she did not receive her $250 paycheck from Uptown Fitness that day, or since.

"They still owe me $250," she said. "And I have not received anything in the mail."

Personal trainer Pedro Ferrer was employed by Uptown Fitness for four years, and served as one of three managers at the gym. When he also arrived to find the gym closed that Wednesday morning, he then made telephone calls to the owner of Uptown Fitness, Keith Allison, and to a co-worker who often opened the fitness center at 5:30 a.m.

Ferrer said his co-worker was told by Allison on Jan. 1 not to open the gym the following morning because "he had it covered." To his knowledge, Ferrer said no employee was informed prior to Jan. 2 of the gym closing.

"Normally Keith would show up around 10 and his daughter around 8," Ferrer said. But neither Allison nor his daughter, Lindsey, who helped manage the center, arrived at the gym that morning.

"Then we started calling him and his daughter and nobody would answer the phone and nobody was calling back. That’s all we knew," Ferrer said.

But a notice on the Uptown Fitness Web site, signed "Uptown Fitness management" and dated Dec. 31, 2007, did acknowledge the gym’s official closing.

The letter stated that Uptown Fitness "will be unable to continue to serve the fitness needs of the community." It also stated members who currently make monthly payments to the gym will not be required to make any additional payments and membership dues will cease to be automatically deducted from members’ accounts monthly.

However, the letter also stated that members who have paid membership dues in advance and in full would not be provided a refund. Further, the posting stated, "I would ask that you consider that your decision to pay in full provided you with a substantial discount. We have looked very carefully at this group of members and there is a very small number of people who will experience a true loss."

A copy of a membership agreement contract was attached to the posting, and stated members were not entitled to refunds "in the event the club ceases operation or fails to offer an alternative location."

Tyre said an individual membership to the gym costs $40 per month. Ferrer said Allison told him the gym had about 1,200 members.

Ferrer said he also was scheduled to receive payment from Uptown Fitness on Jan. 2.

"The whole month of December, nobody’s been paid ... as far as the trainers," he said.

Ferrer said he has yet to receive a paycheck valued at approximately $2,000. Ferrer said he has repeatedly called the only contact numbers for Allison that he has, and has had no response from him. He added the voice mailbox at Uptown Fitness was soon filled with messages, and the owner has not made contact with any Uptown Fitness employees since Jan. 2.

Doug and Debra Harkrider are the owners of the building on Bradford Street that houses Uptown Fitness Center and have leased the building to Allison since he opened the gym on Bradford Street in the summer of 2003.

"I can tell you my wife and I are in the same boat as all of the membership here," Doug Harkrider said. "We’ve attempted to contact him. We don’t know where he’s at and he has not called us back."

Debra Harkrider said Allison was a good tenant and regularly made payments on time.

"We don’t know anything more than anybody else, except for his doors have been closed since Jan. 2, as far as we know," Debra Harkrider said. "I feel really badly for all the members, because we obviously don’t have anything to do with the gym ... and we can’t do anything right now. I feel really bad for the people who have memberships who can’t use them."

Robbie Quick was a member of Uptown Fitness, and paid for two one-year memberships at the gym on July 17, 2007, that totaled $800. Quick enjoyed his one-year membership for less than six months. He also said that he has about $100 worth of property inside his personal locker at Uptown Fitness.

"They won’t return our calls to let us in and get our stuff," Quick said.

Debra Harkrider said she is currently unable to let gym members enter the Uptown Fitness building.

The Times made repeated attempts to contact Allison at Uptown Fitness and at his personal residence in the Southern Trace neighborhood off McEver Road. The Harkriders, as well as numerous members and employees of Uptown Fitness, told The Times they, too, have had no success in making contact with Allison.

The Times also contacted Allison’s former lawyer who represented Allison in 2003 and 2004, when he was entangled in a bankruptcy case filed by the owners of The Edge Performance Fitness and Fitness Consultants. That fitness center occupied the building on Bradford Street that later became Uptown Fitness. The owners of The Edge claimed legal issues with Allison regarding the transition of the fitness center from their possession to his.

Although neither Allison himself nor Uptown Fitness have declared bankruptcy as of press time, a legal notice announcing that his Southern Trace home was under foreclosure first appeared in The Times’ legal section on Dec. 6, 2007.

Ava Smith, who was the aerobics manager at Uptown Fitness, said Allison gave employees no indication the business was faring poorly. Smith added she has yet to receive her $700 paycheck.

Ferrer said, however, that membership was "dwindling" over the past several months, but he was not alarmed because attendance at the gym typically declined during the holiday season.

Allison’s neighbors as well as members of Uptown Fitness described Allison, his wife and 10 children as friendly.

"They’re fine, good Christian people," said Allison’s neighbor, Steve Peacock. "They’re very nice people."

Peacock said he has not seen Allison recently.

"The funny thing is, the fellow didn’t seem like the kind of guy to do something like this," said Caleb Loring, who was a member of Uptown Fitness since it opened in 2003.

Falcon Parkway Fitness on Holland Dam Road is honoring all Uptown Fitness memberships through the month of January. Jon-Eric Kyre, an employee of Falcon Parkway Fitness, said the gym did not discuss the arrangement to accommodate Uptown Fitness members with Allison prior to Jan. 2. Kyre said former Uptown Fitness members may use the gym’s equipment and are also invited to attend fitness classes.



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