Hopscotching: supermarkets locate and re-locate. Why can’t gyms?

My latest article is on Urban Indy. It represents a sort of sequel to an article I wrote about 18 months earlier, where I followed a single Kroger supermarket on the south side of Indianapolis as it kept changing locations–four separate places in about twenty years, all new construction. And none of those locations were more than a mile from the previous–sometimes only a few hundred feet away. So Kroger was emptying out of its own real estate without really chasing a new market. Hopscotching. A tremendous waste. Why keep building and rebuilding?

But this is what successful chains do. And Kroger isn’t the only one.

hopscotching: a recently vacated LA Fitness near Southport, IN

The popular health club chain LA Fitness just closed a branch on the south side of Indianapolis as well, off of Southport Road. The HQ closed the Southport branch despite offering little advance notice that the company planned to do so–and no widespread indications that the corporation is shedding locations nationally. Or that this part of town is declining in terms of retail. Again, why?

The article explores the business practices that characterize the health and fitness industry, which in turn explain why successful chains like LA Fitness must remain attuned to short-lived and passing fads, versus advancements that are likely to elevate to features that customers expect out of every gym. The Southport location was about 15 years old–hardly obsolete but certainly faded, at least compared to new competitors that moved in within the last few years. It shouldn’t have been hard to LA Fitness to spruce up the Southport location and make it competitive. But instead it sits shuttered. And, coincidentally, directly across on Southport Road is another former gym–one that peaked in 1990 and still has the appearance of a retro fitness center.

There it is, up the hill, with the corrugated tin roof. What used to be Racquets Four hasn’t been a gym for at least 25 years. And health clubs across southside Indy keep hopscotching, just like Kroger. The new use of this former gym might surprise readers of Urban Indy more than those who read my own blog. Either way, check it out and feel free to offer your thoughts at either website.

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16 thoughts on “Hopscotching: supermarkets locate and re-locate. Why can’t gyms?

    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      The only one they communicated to me was that it couldn’t compete with the new VASA Fitness on Thompson Road. That might be their PR answer. What were some of the other issues?

      Reply
  1. Beth Campbell-Adams

    Yeah, I was surprised they closed the one in Glendale because it always seemed busy and in a decent location. There’s a new gym in there now. Although I wished there would’ve been another grocery store put in there, I’m just glad it wasn’t converted into a storage place.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Good point. Self-storage is kind of the bottom-of-the-barrel for old boxy buildings. Usually has to be in either a) non-viable locations (very cheap real estate), or b) the cheapest real estate in areas close to a huge demand for self-storage. Option b) is tricky. The place with the highest demand is downtown (where housing units are small and people often downsize to live in condos, but still have lots of loot), but downtown also has high land values–so they have to choose old former industrial sites, where the buildings have uninspiring architecture. The motherlode for that kind of thing in Indy is the Senate/Capitol/Illinois corridors, south of Methodist Hospital.

      I didn’t put 2 + 2 together on this topic until a few years ago, when I noticed that the Long Island City neighborhood in Queens was FILLED with self-storage. It blew my mind, because this was NYC–land values are through the roof! But Long Island City was a largely post-industrial area, conveniently close to Manhattan but NOT Manhattan. IOW, the cheapest piece of land available next to an Island filled with tiny tiny residential units–i.e., tons and tons of people needing a place to store the stuff they can’t fit in their 400 s.f. apartments.

      Hopefully the Southport location of LA Fitness will get re-gymmed. The fact that they haven’t even drained the pool is a sign that they’re just waiting for a new health club tenant.

      Reply
      1. Beth Campbell-Adams

        I watched it happen twice: the former K-Mart at Madison and Southern on the south side got turned into storage place. I had such high hopes for some place that could benefit the community or growing homeless population. I saw it again when the Menards at 38th and Pendleton Pike moved up the street and another storage place took the building.

        Reply
        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          Really delving into a topic near and dear to my heart. I featured that southside Kmart on my blog many years ago, back when it was closing. (https://dirtamericana.com/2014/11/service-station-salvation/) I held out hopes that the presence of a gas station might help entice a new tenant sooner rather than later, but that was pollyannaish on my part. Once the Self Storage moved in, they removed the service station.

          I wasn’t familiar with your Menards situation, but it sounds like exactly what Target started doing in the 90s (and finished in the 2000s): closing operations within the I-465 beltway, then reopening them right outside the beltway. Sort of like the “hopscotching” term that I made up three days ago….

          Reply
          1. Chris B

            Oh, even better: That “old” Menards at 38th/Shadeland/Pendleton, now self-storage, was an original Ayr-Way that became a Target when they bought the chain. After Target closed the site, Menards went in.

            Reply
            1. AmericanDirt Post author

              Thanks as always for the pre-2000 nostalgia trip, Chris. I would have guessed that the current Roses property was the Target (since it has a larger floor plate), but a quick dig through Google Street View archives shows that Roses was a Super Kmart as recently as 2013-14. Target, in the former U-Haul/Menards, must have left the area ages ago (probably an example of how it was strategically smarter than Kmart in the years that led to Kmart’s demise). From what I can tell, in contrast with the Menards, Target didn’t really relocate nearby; it had a location in Castleton until about 6-7 years ago, which they also closed, leaving northeast Indy surprisingly underserved as far as Targets go. I believe Ayr-Ways closed long before Macy’s bought the L.S. Ayres brand, because I don’t remember Ayr-Way at all, but I definitely grew up with L.S. Ayres.

              You probably know already, but I’m pretty sure the tired old building at the I-465/W. Washington Street interchange (now housing a halal grocery store and flea market) was a Target, but might have left the area even in the late 1990s.

              Reply
              1. Chris B

                I think Target bought Ayr-Way from the old LS Ayres Co. circa 1982, plus or minus three years, and the old Ayr-Way locations were 50s/60s strip mall anchors all around town. I don’t remember if Ayres had been bought by Associated (one of Macy’s predecessor chains) at that point…selling Ayr-Way may have been a condition or immediate result of that sale.

                I agree, the NE side is under-Targeted, or was, after they closed the original Ayr-Way/Target stores at 52nd/Keystone and 38th/Shadeland and then reopened 6-8 years later in the reconfigured Glendale Lifestyle Center. And yes, they were on Center Run Drive on the “backside” of Castleton in a nearly-invisible location for a number of years. Target’s site selection criteria in Indy remain an Unsolved Mystery to me.

                Reply
  2. Dan T Man

    Yeah, they build in shopping centers (not malls) and die out as they do. LA FITNESS, rebranded it’s self to Esporta, for whatever reason… same same. Here, their hours are less than… trying to compete with Planet FITNESS. But, less hours per day. That’s a problem. 8 to 5 on weekends? Nerp.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Yeah I saw the Esporta thing in one other city (Columbus OH) but I didn’t even know the chain had locations there in NOLA. Also haven’t seen such limited weekend hours. Sad to think they’re competing with Planet Fitness, which definitely seemed like the low-budget alternative for the longest time.

      Reply
  3. Jerem Joseph

    Was thinking about your article as I learned just the other day that the one in Easton across from the high school (which is always packed) is closing towards the end of January. My wife and I noticed that the basketball court had been “closed for repairs” for quite a while and couldn’t decide if there was actual damage done or they were trying to ward off the often 30 people deep the basketball court had become with people just blatantly smoking weed in there as they waited to hoop. I guess the answer now is it’s closing and they probably want to show a “decline” in active users as part of some numbers justification. Just doesn’t make sense to me though with how busy it always is there to shut down the location.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Yeah, that one was busy. Maybe not as insanely busy as the one in Allentown, but busy nonetheless–and it was smaller too, so it could get crowded more easily. I’m not sure if that issue on the b-ball court was what prompted the closure of the one I featured in Southport, IN but it could have been something similar. You’d think they’d just enforce the rules a bit harder if they wanted to keep the loyal customer base.

      Reply

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