MAYS LANDING - The region's first Anytime Fitness center has opened in the Festival at Hamilton, the second major fitness chain to move into the area this fall.
Owner Michael Collazo said Monday that Anytime Fitness offers unbeatable access to its members, staying open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
He said Hasting, Minn.-based, Anytime Fitness has more than 1,200 centers in North America and about 15 in New Jersey, and he expects more will open in this region soon. Members can use any of them.
The opening comes a month after another fast-growing chain, Retro Fitness, opened its 42nd N.J. center in Egg Harbor Township.
Fitness centers have remained in surprisingly good shape despite the severe U.S. recession.
According to figures from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the number of fitness clubs in New Jersey jumped from 1,027 in 2007 to 1,252 in 2008 - nearly a 25 percent increase in a year - after remaining stable since 2004.
Some of the increase can be attributed to people starting their own businesses as a means of dealing with a difficult economy and employment picture.
But association spokeswoman Rosemary Lavery said Monday that people are reluctant to give up their exercise regimens, especially in more stressful times.
"The recession is affecting every business, but one of the great things about fitness centers is that healthy activity is always going to be good for you," Lavery said. "People are not willing to compromise their health."
The association also expects that fitness centers will get a boost from health care reform's emphasis on preventive care. "Clearly, obesity is a national issue. We're hoping that prevention and wellness incentives get added into the reform plan," Lavery said.
Collazo, who has worked in the industry for a dozen years, said he already has seen businesses adding a fitness center component to their employee health benefits as a way to prevent illness and greater costs.
"Fitness is no longer about the guy who's vain and walks around with big arms, it's about preventing 70 percent of all chronic illnesses," Collazo said. "It can make a huge dent in the cost of health care."
The Anytime Fitness center has 50 pieces of equipment, including cardiovascular exercisers, free weights and cycling machines with computer programs and displays that offer a virtual private spin class, he said. There are two private showers and changing rooms.
Collazo said he chose the Festival at Hamilton location for its high visibility across from the Hamilton Mall. For security, the center has panic buttons throughout the facility and cameras monitoring the parking lot.
He said franchisees can open an Anytime Fitness center for as little as $300,000, but he and his wife invested more to upgrade the equipment to the Star Trac brand, one familiar to TV viewers of "The Biggest Loser."
The center's grand opening, with door prizes and a membership giveaway, will be held at noon Nov. 21. Since opening in September, the center has signed up 200 for memberships starting at $35 per month, Collazo said, half of them from member referrals.
With its always open feature, Anytime Fitness has attracted a number of people from the casino industry, he said.
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