Co-workers Jen Heischman and Melanie Staats would head to the I Love Kickboxing gym in the Fairlawn Town Centre four to five times a week since October.
But a Facebook post in a private members’ group by franchise owner Andrew Mort on April 1 said the gym was closing and that evening's classes would be the last.
It was no April Fools' joke.
Members are now trying to get refunds of hundreds of dollars from the corporate headquarters in New York or via disputes on their credit and debit cards. The gym’s six instructors are trying to find new jobs and get the paychecks they say they're still owed.
Staats said she understands "business is business," but she believes the gym's abrupt closure was hurtful to its members.
"I'm kind of sticking away from the gyms and doing home-based workouts," Heischman said. "It's hard to invest again. Do I want to form another connection and have it be gone?"
Staats and Heischman took advantage in February of the gym’s special — pre-pay for a one-year membership and get 50 percent off the regular price. They both spent $750. Members who questioned Mort on the Facebook group were removed, Heischman said.
Alicia Turner had one more class left in her introductory offer of three classes for $10, but had taken advantage of a February special to buy 10 more classes for $150.
“I’m very disappointed. I’m very mad,” Turner said. “When I found out through Facebook, I almost cried. I was in the middle of Walmart.”
In the Facebook post, Mort said while he was closing the gym “with great sadness,” he was coordinating the closing with headquarters and “a process is being put in place to verify member information for potential refunds.”
The closure comes as American Express National Bank filed a lawsuit March 21 in Summit County Common Pleas Court accusing Mort and the gym business entity, Amakin Inc., of not paying nearly $16,100 in credit card debt.
When reached via email, Mort said his attorney advised him not to comment. He referred all questions to I Love Kickboxing's corporate office.
An email response from I Love Kickboxing's headquarters said: “Unfortunately, the owner of the studio had to close. We saw that the owner informed his members of the closure and notified them that ILKB would be putting a process in place to process refund requests, including verifying member information.
“The owner was accurate. We are working cooperatively with the owner to ensure refund requests are properly handled.”
Neither the corporate office nor Mort answered questions about outstanding pay due to the employees. Some employees received a check this week for the previous pay period, but said they are still owed for the two-week period in which the gym closed.
Sales Manager Kyle Barski, who also managed the gym, and lead instructor Katie Kramer said staff was notified the day before the closing in a group text from Mort. It said the gym would stay open through Friday, but later he amended it to say Monday.
“He didn’t call us in for a meeting,” said Kramer, who had been at the gym since a month after it opened in May 2017.
The staff texted Mort he needed to tell members so they wouldn’t think it was an April Fools' joke.
All six instructors were at the gym to say goodbye to their clients April 1 during the last classes.
“We got very very close with our members,” Barski said. He said he is owed $1,570 for his salaried position and gym supplies he was required to buy first to request reimbursement. “It broke my heart — not even from the standpoint of money — to so suddenly and out of nowhere have our gym closed.”
Barski couldn’t stay through the final class because he had a job interview.
“I said my goodbyes and people were crying,” he said.
Barski and Kramer said looking back, there may have been signs of financial troubles, but there was usually a good explanation from Mort.
“Looking back now, we probably should have spoke up when it first started,” he said. Some checks since December have bounced, but Mort always got the employees paid afterward, he said.
Barski said he was not told to stop selling memberships and thinks his last sale was four days before the gym closed. He estimates there were 100 members, with about 40 actively coming. Within two weeks before the closure, Barski said Mort also approved a new hire.
“I understand it’s your business. If it wasn’t working out, you have all the right to close," Barski said. "I was upset about the way he went about it. … Proper business etiquette when parting ways is two weeks’ notice."
Staats said while most members may get refunds from corporate offices or through their credit or debit cards, she worries most about the instructors, who are owed money and out of jobs.
“We’re sick about the money, but the people, too. This whole community that was taken away so abruptly,” Heischman said.
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher.