After sitting empty and lifeless for three years in the heart of Oakhurst, the retail space that housed Gottschalks in the Raley's shopping center, will soon be the home of Form Fitness, a $2 million state-of-the-art fitness center.
Remodeling of the 26,400 square-foot building, estimated to cost $1 million, is expected to begin by the end of May with an opening planned for mid-September.
Partners in the business are Ty and Tammy (Veater) Loveland of Coarsegold and in-law Sassan and Amy (Veater) Golafshan of Palo Alto. The Lovelands own and operates 41 Fitness in Coarsegold. Ty is a contractor and Tammy is a trustee on the Yosemite Union School District school board.
Sassan Golafshan is a developer with offices in Fresno and Palo Alto. A veteran in the fitness industry, he has designed and built multiply fitness centers on a consulting basis throughout California including Pasadena and San Francisco.
Golafshan owns Form Fitness in Palo Alto that opened 10 years ago.
"Our Palo Alto gym has gained a reputation for having one of the cleanliest and most well maintained work out facilities in the Bay Area," Golafshan said.
"Since we opened Fitness 41 in Coarsegold seven months ago, we quickly realized the need in the area for a full service fitness center," Tammy Loveland said.
"The gym will provide a substantial economic impact to Oakhurst and the surrounding areas," Golafshan said. "It will draw additional traffic to the Raley's shopping center and that will benefit all the stores there."
Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler is optimistic about Oakhurst's economy and feels empty buildings in the area are starting to slowly fill up.
"I see changes coming to Madera County -- Especially Eastern Madera County," Wheeler said. "It's exciting to see a substantial business like this coming to our community." Wheeler said. "This fitness center is going to ad to the overall economy providing about 40 jobs and paying state and county taxes."
Mitchell Eisner, who is with the property management firm that oversees the center, said he was "excited to be able to deliver a first class fitness center to the Oakhurst community."
The partners expect to hire about 40 full-time and part time employees to operate the business.
"Our hope is to hire local talent to help us run the facility," Golafshan said, adding a job fair is planned for Aug. 9 through 17 at the center.
"We'll hire knowledgeable, friendly and supportive employees who will be trained to deliver the best guidance to help our members achieve their fitness goals," Tammy Loveland said.
"In addition to the expense of the remodel, an additional $1 million will be spent on state-of-the-art equipment and other features," Sassan Golafshan said. The center will feature an aerobics room, cycling room, stretching area, state-of-the-art strength and cardio equipment and full-amenity men and women locker rooms, including steam rooms and private showers.
"We will have a dedicated senior and women's only training room so those members will feel comfortable," Golafshan said.
"Form Fitness will be the perfect place for people who may feel a little uncomfortable going to a public gym," Ty Loveland said. "This facility will provide dedicated and private space for women and seniors."
Golafshan said more than 50 classes are being planned for the center that will be open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, including indoor cycling, aerobics, kick-boxing, boot camp weight training, flow (ballet bar conditioning), yoga and pilates.
"We will have classes for students 15 and older, adults, and special programs and classes for our 55-plus members," Golafshan said.
The 4,000 square-foot aerobics room will also serve as a basketball and volleyball court and volleyball court and community recreation leagues will be formed to play in the evenings and on weekends.
Equipment planned for the center includes 50 treadmills, 30 spin bikes, 30 elliptical and recumbant bikes, Selectoriz weight machines and free weights. In addition, 10 60-inch HD TVs will be mounted throughout the facility for members to watch while working out.
The facility will also have pro shop that will carry athletic shoes and shorts and other fitness related equipment.
Form fitness will offer child care with a built-in jungle gym where children can be active while their parents are working out, along with games and videos to entertain and educate children too young to join our kid's classes," Ty Loveland said. "Children will be under the watchful eye of adult supervision while their parents are taking a class or training with a personal trainer on our machines. The child care room will will be on a live feed shown on flat screens in the women's locker room and aerobics room.
"We know how tough it can be to try and fit in a workout during your day," Golafshan said. "And even if time can be found, there is always the issue of what to do with the children. We say bring them with you and start teaching them the importance of making time for health and wellness."
Form Fitness is planning a pre-opening membership special for those who sign-up in advance at Fitness 41, 35686 Highway 41, Coarsegold, or at formfitness.net/oakhurst.
The pre-opening monthly individual rate is $49, $10 off the regular rate, and the $195 initiation fee will be waived. Discounts will also be offered for students, families and seniors.
It was June 2009 when Fresno-based Gottschalks department store announced its bankruptcy and six-state, 58-store closing, including the Oakhurst store with its 30 employees. The company, with more than 5,000 employees, was 104 years old at the time and the Oakhurst store was the last department store in the county after Mervyn's closed in Madera the previous year.
At the time, it was reported Gottschalks had accumulated $197 million in debt. Company stock plummeted from $25 a share at the height to as little as 11 cents a share in March 2009.
The loss of Gottschalks was considered by many Oakhurst business and chamber of commerce leaders as a major blow to Oakhurst. Efforts by the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce to attract a similar store to Oakhurst, including Kohl's, TJ Maxx, JC Penneys, Marshalls and Ross, were not successful.
Greg Chappel, president of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce said "it is encouraging to see some signs that our local economy is improving with entrepreneurs now willing to open additional businesses in our mountain community. It is our hope that this new fitness center brings new jobs to Oakhurst and enriches our mountain community."