Two Creston business owners reported on Monday that the recent opening of the health and wellness facility at Creston and District Community Complex (CDCC) could force them to close their doors.
Charleen Pompu, owner of Creston Fitness Centre, and Shama Johnson, who co-owns No Boundaries Health and Fitness, were invited to present information to the local services committee. Creston Mayor Ron Toyota, and Regional District of Central Kootenay directors John Kettle, Larry Binks and Garry Jackman, along with CDCC staff, were told that the publicly funded fitness centre was having a direct, negative impact on their businesses.
“I first learned there was a problem for these businesses when I was stopped by one of my constituents in the grocery store,” Kettle said. “So we asked the owners to come to the meeting so we could hear what they have to say.
“I guess I’ve got lots to say,” Pompu said when she stepped up to the podium at Creston town hall. She said she was once a director of the aquatic society and worked toward construction of an indoor pool.
“I was really happy to see the project approved in the referendum,” she said, adding that she wrote to the RDCK about leasing space before construction started. She was told in a letter she promised to provide for committee members that leased space would not be available.
Later, she said, she was told by architect Vic Davies that the fitness area would have “some cardiac equipment” and that it would not offer a full range of equipment.
“I was told it wouldn’t be any competition to a real gym, so I went out and sunk $150,000 into new equipment for my business,” she said. “Now I feel like I was stabbed in the back.”
Pompu said the huge selection of equipment at CDCC, including free weights, along with early opening hours and low day use rates, making it difficult for her to compete.
“I have some really angry members because they know that if something doesn’t change I’m going to have to close down,” she said. “Those members don’t want to work out in the open — I have lots of nooks and crannies that give my customers a sense of privacy.
“Other public recreation facilities don’t open at 5:30 a.m. That’s not catering to families and seniors, it’s going right after hardcore weightlifters and body builders who use our cardlock system so they can work out early in the morning.
“For eight years I’ve managed to do okay. Then the new fitness centre opened, and in February I couldn’t even make my rent payment. I have about three months before I have to close and claim bankruptcy, I guess.”
Johnson reiterated Pompu’s concerns, saying she was surprised when she visited the new CDCC fitness facility.
“We were under a different assumption of what the fitness centre would be,” she said. “We were amazed at how spectacular it was.
“We were told there would be no free weights — that’s the main core of our business. And there is way more equipment than we anticipated — it’s actually quite cramped. How can we compete financially when for $6.50 a person can use the fitness centre and the aquatic centre for the whole day, coming and going as they please? That is an amazing price, I think.”
The two privately owned businesses charge $9 and $10 per day for drop-in guests.
Area B director Kettle said he agreed that the addition of free weights and longer opening hours had created direct competition for businesses whose taxes support the facility.
“We are in the business of trying to accommodate the needs of all taxpayers, not to adversely affect businesses,” he said.
Randy Fediuk, CDCC manager of recreation, told the meeting that the health and wellness centre hours mirror those of the aquatic centre, which is open about 80 hours a week.
“The response from the public has been that the hours are OK but some feedback is telling us to open longer,” he said. “Our hours of operation are a work in progress.”
“I want to work with the regional district as a team, not as a competitor,” Pompu said, explaining that there was room for the public and private facilities to co-exist. “I might survive if some changes are made. I’d lose a bit, but I might survive.”
On Tuesday, Kettle introduced a motion to adjust the CDCC health and wellness centre hours to open at 8 a.m. starting on April 1. The motion passed unanimously but must be approved by the full RDCK board.
“I also want to consider removing the free weights and anything else that moves the public facility away from health and wellness and into body building and weightlifting,” he said. “In my opinion these business owners have a legitimate case and I think it is important to work with them to find a resolution to this problem.”