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The rise of "wellness" clubs

Chicago real estate agent Cheena Chandra is a busy woman. When she resolved to start taking better care of herself a few years ago, she knew a traditional gym membership wouldn't cut it. She wanted something better tailored to her specific needs: a place where she could attend a Pilates class, meet with a nutritionist, get a healthy meal, and hold a business meeting all under one roof, among other women who were also seeking to balance their personal and professional lives, just like she was.

She found it in BIÂN, an exclusive "wellness" club that offers a wide array of luxury amenities to its members. BIÂN is just one example of a new breed of clubs that have opened across the country in recent years. These clubs cultivate a hotel-like feel, with fitness facilities, coworking spaces, high-quality restaurants, spas, and even medical services. "It's nice to have everything in a one-stop shop," says the 53-year-old Chandra.

A holistic experience

"Everything works together to form an overall experience," says Ed Bell, managing director of Heimat, a Los Angeles wellness club that opened in 2021. Heimat offers a Soho-House-meets-gym vibe for members. There's a rooftop pool for hanging out (and cabanas for shade), coworking and meeting spaces, a gym that offers boutique studio classes, including boxing, cycling, and yoga, and a beauty and recovery spa.

After a workout, members can head to the fourth floor and hop into Mother Tongue, a restaurant with a menu developed by award-winning chef Michael Mina. "If someone wants to just work out," says Bell, "there are certainly places that are less expensive or locations closer to home." Heimat, however, sees itself as more than just a place to get physically fit. Recently the club has increased their non-fitness event programming to accommodate guest demand. For example, once a month, they host the "Golden Hour," a poolside social with catered hors d'oeuvres and a live DJ.

The social aspects of the wellness clubs are a big draw, especially since the pandemic. While prospective members do not need references and don't have to jump through country-club style hoops to apply, the clubs try to keep membership small to encourage more visits per member. At Heimat, members are not allowed to bring guests to participate in programs, which discourages cliques, says Bell.

BIÂN, which opened in 2020, makes a real effort to help guests meet other guests through their programs. Fitness classes often have just a handful of participants to create a more personal feel, while special events help to draw in a crowd for both networking and fun, says Justine Fedak, BIÂN's chief marketing and culture officer. Guests take part in weekly summer happy hours alongside the Chicago River and participate in collaborative, multi-week workshops intended to help them unleash their creativity. "Right now, people are looking for more positivity and connectivity to themselves and others," says Fedak.

Recently, Chandra joined the club's 8-week nutritional and training program and was very satisfied by the progress she had made. With all the experts working together—combined with the healthy options available at BIÂN's restaurant—she found it easier to stay on track than she might have by working with a nutritionist and exercising on her own. "It was transformational for me," she says. She's also developed strong relationships with other women in her weekly Pilates class—even planning a trip to Italy with one of her new friends. "It's more social in a beautiful way," she says.

The club charges $4,000 annually, plus a $1,000 initiation fee. Guests can also opt for a separate concierge medical membership for $3,600, which provides access to the club's team of doctors.

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The right balance

In Portland, Oregon, Knot Springs, which bills itself as a "wellness social club," opened in 2016 and is building a Seattle location that is expected to be completed in 2023. Members can choose between $200 daytime-only memberships or $500 flexible offerings while partaking in everything from a series of pools to a dry heat sauna on the club's property. A members-only lounge offers in-person networking. "It's really more of a social club than it is a gym; there's opportunity for meeting so many types of people," says Allie Lurie, director of engagement at Knot Springs.

Hugh d'Autremont, a former athlete who visits Knot Springs several times per week, says the wellness aspect is especially important as he gets older. The 70-year-old designer and builder prefers the atmosphere at Knot Springs to the traditional gyms and clubs he's familiar with. "You tend not to get the hardcore bodybuilders, who go to different kinds of gyms," he says. "It offers the right balance of exercise and awareness and therapeutic options."

The smaller spaces don't often allow for diversity of classes and typically feature less specialized gym equipment. Lana Butner, a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist in New York who has visited several of these wellness clubs says the emphasis is more on rejuvenation than on breaking a sweat. "I see less exercise and more recovery at these," says Butner who adds that she still enjoys their spa-like amenities.

But proponents of wellness clubs say they are tinkering with a model that already works, while updating it for their members' particular needs. "At the outset, it was vital that we focused on our core offering of fitness and wellness," says Bell. "Now that we have those procedures dialed in, we have been gradually planning more."

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