***UPDATE: LA Fitness will now be honoring lifetime agreements, according to Paul Norris, Principal at LA Fitness, who called Upper Dublin Patch Monday afternoon. Please click here for our coverge.***
The in Willow Grove is the target of some local ire this week, after it was announced that competitor LA Fitness had purchased the facility. Now, some customers are out of a membership, including “lifetime” agreements that cost thousands of dollars.
“We’ve been members since 1984, ever since my husband and I got engaged,” said Upper Dublin resident Joan Tait, who paid roughly $2,000 for a lifetime membership. “There were years where we wouldn’t go at all, but for the last decade or so we’ve been going several times a week and never had to pay anything.”
Tait says it all changed unexpectedly when she and her husband visited the location last week, and employees at the front desk told them they would “get them on the way out,” after scanning their ID cards.
“We thought that was odd, and then we heard something over the loudspeaker about LA fitness,” said Tait.
After approaching employees to ask about what was going on, Tait says they were lead into an upstairs office where they were told about the sale and that their lifetime membership would no longer be honored. She says they were pitched on a new LA Fitness membership at a discount rate, but were wary and declined.
Conflicting statements on existing memberships
According to a ClubIndustry.com article, the Willow Grove location is one of 171 Bally's facilities sold nationwide to LA Fitness for approximately $153 million. The sale included 13 in the Philadelphia region, of which four will close and nine will continue to operate under the LA Fitness banner, including the Willow Grove location. Bally's now operates 100 locations in the U.S., while the addition boosts LA Fitness from 360 to 538 clubs.
Calls to the national offices of LA Fitness in Irvine, California were not immediately returned Sunday. However, the company posted the following release on its website regarding the sale.
Our objective in general is to make this transition as easy as possible for both the members and employees. We will be servicing all of the membership agreements that were acquired from Bally's. The majority of the acquired clubs will remain open, but some will be closing before the end of the year. If we close a facility, we will transfer those members’ agreements to a nearby facility, either an acquired Bally's or an LA Fitness…
The employees at the clubs we acquired will no longer be employed by Bally's, but we hope that they will apply for positions with us. We will do our best to find a spot for every qualified Bally's employee who wants to be part of our team.
Despite the release’s statement that all membership agreements would be honored, an employee who answered the phone at the Bally's/LA Fitness location in Wyncote, Pa., told Patch that the lifetime memberships were instantly nullified.
“For those individuals with lifetime memberships, the changes are effective immediately,” the employee told Patch over the phone, adding that all other memberships would be honored.
In addition, he confirmed that all employees would need to reapply.
“They do have to go through a rehiring process. It’s up to them to stick around or not, and some didn’t want to stay at all,” he said.
Employees at the Bally's in Voorhees, N.J., were not so lucky, as they found themselves out of a job last week, according to an NBC10 article.
After that gym had been temporarily closed for repairs, employees returned to find a note on the door that said the facility would be closing permanently on December 8, the article says.
“So we thought we had jobs,” the article quoted Toni Arlotta, a personal trainer and receptionist at Bally's for 30 years, as saying. “We came in on Thursday and we didn’t have jobs.”
Gym members: Communication poor or nonexistent
Locally, residents were upset about the lack of communication from the gym.
“We should have been notified. They have our e-mail address, but nothing was sent out. There were no flyers or literature explaining the situation,” said Tait.
Upper Dublin Township commissioner Ira Tackel, whose family also benefitted from a lifetime membership that was purchased by his parents in 1973 and transferred to him, said that he had the same experience.
“My wife went to workout on Friday, and was told at the front desk that Bally's had been purchased,” said Tackel. “That was the first we heard of it. I had no indication that there was even a potential sale.”
Tackel says that his family had been paying an annual $12 fee as part of the membership, and that his wife had paid $120 up front in 2009 to lock them into the low rate through 2019. That’s money it appears they will not get back, in addition to the original lifetime sign-up amount.
“I believe I have certain rights that should be honored by LA Fitness. This transaction is very different from a bankruptcy where all bets are off,” Tackel said. “LA Fitness is putting on the full court press to try and convert Bally's lifetime members to LA Fitness lifetime memberships… but I’m not going to be pressured into signing, I think I have rights as a Bally's member.”
An employee of the Willow Grove LA Fitness, who identified himself as a manager in charge of memberships, confirmed that the location would remain open. However, he refused to comment on questions concerning membership, and quickly disconnected the call when pressed for more information.
According to one gym member, a stack of unofficial flyers inside the facility advertised a gathering at the on December 17 to discuss the cancellation of the lifetime memberships. Employees of the inn stated they could not confirm the existence of such an event until Tuesday, but Patch will continue to seek information on any gathering.
In addition, a commenter of this article suggested those affected by the transfer visit http://ballyssuit.com, where individuals are sharing stories and entertaining the idea of filing a class-action lawsuit.
UpperMoreland-WillowGrove Editor Gerry Dungan contributed to this article. Additional information and accounts can be e-mailed to editors Kyle Bagenstose at Kyle@Patch.com and Gerry Dungan at GerryDungan@Patch.com.