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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Members mourn closure of Claremont institution; property up for sale

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

The community received another collective blow last Thursday when The Claremont Club abruptly announced that it will be closing permanently due to business interruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to inform you that The Claremont Club will be closing operations permanently as of August 1, 2020. This was not an easy decision for the owners of the Club to make,” CEO Mike Alpert conveyed in a statement.

The announcement came as a surprise—many Claremonters were shocked that an institution they presumed would be around forever had suddenly closed.

Claremont residents Mike and Sue Gozansky joined the Club not long after it opened in 1973. Asked what he thinks of the closure and potential sale, Mr. Gozansky said: “I think it stinks.”

When they joined 47 years ago, there were just two tennis courts and a small rock house sitting out in the open. But the founder Stanley Clark soon had to build a fence because, as Mr. Gozansky put it, “Everybody in Claremont figured they were a member.”

The family’s membership came with the right to sell it at any time even for a profit, but Mr. Gozansky was never interested. In the early 1990s, Mr. Clark himself offered to buy back the membership and convert the couple to a regular plan but they still refused.

“This is one of the best things about this city,” Mr. Gozansky said. “If you knock it down, you would never be able to build another because there is no more land.”

Longtime Claremont resident Barbara Mowbray, who is the widow of former school board member Sam Mowbray, shared her sadness about the Club’s closing on social media.

“I was out walking with my TCC friends today and ran into people we know and we shared our grief,” Ms. Mowbray wrote. “After my husband passed, TCC and the people there gave me strength, along with my family. It gave us structure, exercise and social time. Loved the staff.”

When the economy first shut down, Mr. Alpert said that he assumed the Club would be closed for several weeks. When it became clear that it was going to be much longer than that, he came up with a plan to help keep the Club afloat. He promised to keep his 260 employees fully paid if members agreed to continue paying their dues for two and a half months.

The members would eventually get their money back in the form of reduced dues. But that plan partially fell apart after the company contracted by the Club to collect dues laid off its employees in April, which resulted in dues not being collected in May.

The Club reopened for tennis and pickleball on May 25 and the entire facility was reopened on June 15 with many new restrictions, including fewer hours of operation and limiting members to two-hour visits. However, with virus cases spiking in the region, the health department ordered gyms to close again on July 12.

Mr. Alpert told the COURIER that dues alone account for less that 50 percent of revenue—the rest comes from onsite activities such as personal training, Pilates and private swimming and tennis lessons. However, because of health department restrictions those activities were reduced to a trickle in June and July. Additionally, the Club lost about 1,200 memberships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we are closed our fixed operating costs are close to $300,000 a month,” Mr. Alpert said. “We were paying our fixed costs and operating expenses for all of March, all of April and the first half of May, which was quite expensive. There is no club in the United States of America that has the kind of cash reserves that can support a closure of their entire business for three, four, five, six months.”

During that time, the Club spent $1.3 million, which included its reserves and funds from the federal Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, but still ran out of money. Because it remained unknown how long the Club would need to be closed, selling was the best exit strategy for the owners.

“The owners of the Claremont Club never, ever wanted to sell the Club,”?Mr. Alpert said. “I can tell you, during my time at the Club, there have been eight to 10 offers, some have been developers. Every single time, they have declined it. Their true intent has always been to run the Club and continue on with what Stan Clark started in 1973, and to pass it on to their children and grandchildren.”

According to the Club’s official history page, founder Stanley Clark purchased 100 acres in north Claremont in 1972 with the intention of building a tennis facility. He and his then wife Doris moved into an old stone house on the property, and on July 13, 1973, they opened what was then called the Claremont Tennis Club.

In 1980 and 1981, the surrounding land was developed into housing, leaving roughly 17 acres for the Club itself. Over the next decade, Mr. Clark and his second wife, Sue, expanded the Club to include 29 tennis courts, a childcare center, racquetball courts, a recreational pool, an Olympic size pool, a weight room and classrooms for group exercise such as aerobics and yoga. Because of these additions, Mr. Clark changed the name to The Claremont Club.

On Sunday, about 200 members, employees and other locals gathered in the Club’s parking lot for a rally. The event was organized by an ad hoc group calling itself Save the Claremont Club, with the goal of gathering a list of people who may be interested in pooling their money to make a serious bid to buy the Club and keep it open.

Acting as emcee for the day, TCC tennis coach Darren Richer made his plea to the crowd.

“This is so much more valuable than just the land, so putting a price on it doesn’t do it justice. We have an opportunity to create a legacy, I want my 10-year-old to be able to come here,” said Mr. Richer, who has worked at the Club for 18 years.

He said the goal over the next few days will be to determine whether enough people are interested and are willing to fund it, “We might have a shot at buying it and saving The Claremont Club.”

The owners—Geoff, Kevin and Stanley Jr. Clark, and Sue [Clark] Hyland—have contracted with a commercial broker who will conduct a feasibility study and then take the property out to market where prospective buyers can submit bids through the broker.

Mr. Alpert said the owners will look at all offers, including those that continue the family legacy, even if they are not among the highest bids. However, any offer that includes running the business would need to be in alignment with fair market value, which Mr. Alpert estimates is between $1.5 and $2.5 million per acre.

“If there is somebody who is philanthropic and understands what we do and the difference we make in and around the community, if they want to buy it as the ongoing Claremont Club…the Clarks and Sue are very open to hearing about those offers,” Mr Alpert said.

Mr. Alpert said that during his 23-year tenure, he is most proud of the team of employees that he describes as “the finest managers and staff in the fitness industry in the world.” He asked the COURIER to put out the word that if any business in the area is currently looking for employees to please contact him.

He also takes pride in the TCC Nonprofit Foundation which has helped people recovering from cancer, including seniors and children, with free exercise programs. The foundation provides summer camp scholarships for students who cannot afford to attend otherwise.

And Mr. Alpert remains deeply connected to the Club’s 13-year partnership with the Be Perfect Foundation, which runs The Perfect Step Paralysis Recovery Center located off the main fitness center. The closure means the Perfect Step will have to find a new location.

“In my short business life, yesterday was the most unfortunate day I have experienced,”?founder and president of the Be Perfect Foundation Hal Hargrave, Jr. said last Friday. “The Claremont Club was more than just a community partner. The Club was like home and the staff like family. Mike is more than just a mentor, he is like a father and someone I regard as a dear friend.”

Mr. Alpert said he is very grateful for the loyal members of the Club.

“They have been very supportive. We are in an industry where the average length of membership is 18 months, and at the Claremont Club it is just shy of seven years. I am incredibly grateful to our members who have stuck with us and been kind and nice to staff over all these years.”

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