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Family owned Claremont Club has new approach, new attitude

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

When the city of trees’ beloved Claremont Club abruptly closed its doors last August, it felt more like a death in the family.

“The Club” opened in 1973, and enjoyed an unusually long run for a family-owned, standalone fitness facility. It also engendered a sense of community among its longtime members and employees, who following its closure took to social media and posted heartfelt testimonials about their formative experiences.

So when news spread in December that the Claremont Club had a new owner and would soon reopen, the reaction was unbridled joy.

And the new stewards of the Claremont Club, Carmel-based McKay Group, took notice.

“Seriously, the best thing about all this is really how wonderful the community has been,” said Kyle McKay, marketing and communications director and daughter of owner Heidi McKay. “I was here on days one, two and three, and everyone was so kind and warm. It was just so wonderful. And they were all so excited to be back on the courts or in the pool.”

The Club reopened February 1 for tennis, pickleball and swimming.

“And we’re hoping to open up the other areas in the next few weeks,” Ms. McKay said. “We don’t have a set timeline yet, but we are hoping to open up an outdoor gym with strength and cardio.”

McKay Group purchased the Club December 28 of last year. “It was all really quick to be honest,” Ms. McKay said. “We’ve been just working as quickly and as hard as possible to get as many staff members back and be in a position where we could reopen as safely as we could.

“What’s really nice is the Claremont Club was so beautifully taken care of that it was easier for us to be able to open up kind of immediately. It really just ended up all working out. I feel like a month turnaround is pretty good!”

The new owners aren’t planning any immediate major changes to the Club. Unless turning it inside out counts as a major alteration.

“We are organizing all the equipment and arranging all of that [outside],” Ms. McKay said. “And then we’re also going to have group exercise classes outside: spin, body pump, Core (formerly CX Works), which is one of the Les Mills classes. So we’re going to be bringing back a lot of the favorites.”

Buying the business involved a leap of faith in that as of February 1, the Claremont Club did not have a single member.

“But what’s so beautiful about this is everyone is so eager to rejoin,” Ms. McKay said. “We sent out,” an email interest form to former members, “and we have had an incredible response.”

Ms. McKay estimated the Club’s membership to be just north of 100 on Monday.

“At this point I think we have over 2,000 people who responded who say they want to rejoin,” she said. “This is not all going to be immediate because we don’t have everything open yet. Even so, just that response has been incredible.”

Ms. McKay said she was aware of a minor kerfuffle that had erupted days before on the Club’s Instagram feed after a photo was posted showing an unmasked pickleball player.

“Actually I did see those comments,” Ms. McKay said. “We want all of our members to be safe. We currently are requiring masks upon entry and at all communal areas. We are asking them to remain socially distanced, to use the hand sanitizer that is provided. We’re disinfecting all communal spaces every 30 minutes. So we are taking this seriously.”

The County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health’s “General Reopening Checklists for Tennis and Pickleball Courts” states: “Participants arriving at the establishment are reminded to wear a face covering at all times (except while eating or drinking, if applicable or during game play) while in the establishment or on the grounds of the establishment.”

On Tuesday, the Club’s Instagram feed included this update: “I am so sorry for the confusion. I misinterpreted our policy. Masks are not required on the tennis and pickleball courts, but we do require social distancing. Masks are required while entering/exiting the facility and in all communal areas. When our tented gym opens we will act in accordance with all county and state guidelines and restrictions.”

Current county guidelines for outdoor gyms read thusly: “All patrons are required to wear cloth face coverings while they are at the outdoor fitness space, or inside using the restroom.” Those guidelines are constantly evolving though, and could be more or less stringent when the Club’s outdoor gym space opens a few weeks from now.

“Our priority is keeping our members and staff safe,” Ms. McKay said. “We’ll be adhering to all guidelines.”

Monthly dues start at $160. For a limited time, the Club will be offering discounts to former members.

“Whether that’s going to be the initiation fee being waived or a discount on your dues, it really depends on a lot of factors, including what your status was when you were a member before. We want to encourage members to fill out that interest form on the website,” at www.claremontclub.com/join, “so we can know that they’re interested and we can get them in.”

McKay Group also owns the Carmel Valley Athletic Club, and Refuge Spa, which is on the same property as the C.V.A.C., and now, the Claremont Club. 

Matriarch Heidi McKay is the owner of the Claremont Club. Daughters Kyle (marketing and communications director) and Paige McKay (information technology) are on board, as is her son Matthew, who is the Club’s photographer and social media coordinator.

The new owners say change will come, but for now, “we’re not going to be doing anything big, just a little bit of a facelift, some new chairs, new tables, things like that,” Ms. McKay said. “Hopefully in a couple years we’ll start seeing some bigger ones. We don’t have that planned out right now. We’re really just focusing on getting open and making sure that our fitness offerings are what they were before, but obviously moved outside in an incredibly safe environment.”

The Claremont Club, a family-run business for 47 years prior to the McKays taking over, remains a family enterprise. It’s a bit of symmetry not lost on the new owners.

“We are planning keeping a lot of it the same,” Ms. McKay said. “The name will be staying. There’s so much history around that, and the Clark family, that we wanted to keep that and really honor what they’ve done.”

 

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