The New York Health and Racquet Club at 23rd St. and 6th Ave. in Manhattan has a tiled and winding staircase reminiscent of a Havanese hotel. Up the stairs, a rhythm of ropes undulating and shoes bouncing off the rubber floor, the tap-tap of gloves hitting focus pads in the boxing ring and the water cascading from strokes in the saltwater pool tell a different story.
For 40 years, NYHRC has been creating dynamic and spirited fitness communities around Manhattan. Now, with NYHRC and Pan Am Equities scion Kim Manocherian at the helm, the family-run club is looking to the future.
Last Tuesday, the club celebrated its 40th anniversary by recalling the era in which it was born - a time when "only cars had muscles," as one celebratory poster stated. Staff at all 9 locations wore 70s-style polyester, glued-on sideburns and bell bottoms, and challenged members to fitness challenges. A 65-year-old member at the club's Cooper Square location held a plank for nine minutes, staff reported.
Kim was 14 when her father, Fred, opened the New York Health and Racquet Club's first location at 76th St. and York Ave. in Manhattan. She was the oldest of five and she did well in school. Still, her father encouraged her to be more active.
"He would tell me that he'd prefer I didn't do as well and was a little more well rounded," Kim said last week. "He's the only person I know that exercises seven days-a-week."
At 81, Fred, who still meets with Kim once-a-week to consult on club management, swims and does cardio and floor work every day. It's that integrity and honest enthusiasm for fitness that Kim is working tirelessly to bring back to the club.
During the decade or so that Kim took time away from the club to raise her children, the company became more sales-driven, and because of that, membership was devalued, she said.
"There was some identity that was lost in that process," Kim said. Since she officially took the reigns as President and CEO in January, it's been a project to bring back the soul of the company, she said. "That's been the hardest thing to confront - the devaluing of the business."
Kim spent two years reacquainting herself with the industry before taking over the company this year.
"It wasn't an industry when I was in it last," she said. According to market research company IBIS World, gym memberships in the U.S. have increased from 46 million in 2003 to nearly 53 million in 2013.
In a competitive market, Kim and her staff are working toward clarifying their club's identity, and putting their "members first."
As part of an effort to bring the focus back to its members, the club recently changed its sales compensation model, shifting focus from sign-up to retaining membership, thus keeping staff invested in members' experience beyond getting them in the door. The club has also encouraged its staff to train at their gyms, letting staff train with new trainers free for the trainer's first month, and at cost beyond that.
Loyalty is ruling force in the Manocherian family, Kim said. That translates into NYHRC management knowing their members and staff, and an enviable staff retention rate.
In 1981, Kim was an opening manager at the club's 56th St. and 6th Ave. location.
"I can tell you the name of everyone that worked at the front desk, my co-managers, and every person who was selling at the time," Kim said.
One of those front desk people was Barbara Tuchman, who started at 56th St. in 1984. Tuchman, now a membership consultant at 56th St. after working in many capacities and at several locations, was on hand to celebrate the NYHRC's 40th Anniversary Tuesday.
Heidi Krebs, a quiet woman with a bright smile, started working at NYHRC in 1973, at the club's 76th St. location, as an aerobics instructor. For the past 17 years, Krebs has worked in customer service at the club's corporate office on 50th St.
"The hours are a lot better," Krebs said.
Long-term employees like Tuchman and Krebs have carried on her father's legacy, Kim said.
"They know the core of who we are," she said. "I thing it's important not to take the best of someone and throw them away."
Members, like Peter Reiter and Annette Thies, have also been with the club since its inception. Reiter, who was at 56th St. Tuesday, calls Fred Manocherian "Uncle Fred," and was a guest at Greg Manocherian's (Kim's brother) wedding. Thies migrated to the 50th St. location when it opened in the early 80s. Thies was inspired by her view of the parapets and arches of St. Patrick's Cathedral across 50th St. from the club's treadmills, and wrote a poem about it once, she said. She promised to share the poem, if she could find it.
The club has invested in massive renovations, updating clubs at 13th St. and Whitehall St., and made the transition to using salt water pools - a healthier alternative to chlorine.
"It's a non-chemical approach to pool sanitation, and it's a renewable resource" said NYHRC Marketing Director April Riegler. Last Tuesday, Riegler sported a long, frilly red dress and Farah Fawcett feathered hair to celebrate the club's birthday.
Visual Content Manager Jill Vance, herself a collegiate swimmer at Northeastern University, said she returned to swimming in the club's pools after a few years off, and her stoke felt as strong as ever because of her increased buoyancy in the saltwater.
"I felt as good as when I practiced eight times-a-week," Vance said. Vance also noticed a positive difference in her skin and breathing after her workout, she said. After 14 years in chlorinated pools, she is a changed swimmer.
Vance snapped photos at 23rd St. last week, at the club's 40,000 square-foot main floor, while New York State Junior Middleweight Champion boxer Frank Galarza held court on the floor as a personal trainer. Two NYHRC-sponsored female boxers, Ronika Jeffries and Melissa St. Vil (also personal trainers) sparred in the ring in the center of the floor and members crowded around.
Across the expanse of rubber flooring, a Yoga class was finishing up in one of the club's studios. Students embraced before leaving the room.
"What we have that's very unique and special is intangible," Kim said. Beauty is difficult to describe, she said, but "you know it when you see it." +