What was once Ladies Fit is now Lady Fit.
In between it was, until recently, VI Fitness until it suddenly closed its doors at the beginning of May, leaving clients all over Vancouver Island stunned.
“These women elsewhere on the Island are, like, livid,” current owner Courtney Dystant says.
When a brief window opened to take back the property, her mother-in-law Laurie Dystant, who had originally owned Ladies Fit before selling it, had an idea and moved quickly.
“If we didn’t do it now, it would never happen,” Laurie says.
She approached her daughter-in-law with an offer she could not refuse, telling Courtney, “We’ve got this opportunity. You’ve got half an hour to make a decision.”
She would help Courtney acquire the site so Courtney could re-open as owner of the new business, appropriately named Lady Fit, with Laurie acting as mentor. It is now the only one of the former VI Fitness sites operating.
“Everything location on the Island is gone,” Courtney says. “It’s the only one that’s left standing.”
They inherited a mess in many ways, as they had to clean everything thoroughly and run the equipment through some heavy maintenance. Laurie says they even found old files from when she had operated the gym years before.
“It was just a disaster,” she says.
The first month back was especially tough as Courtney and her team worked to get the gym back in shape.
“I was here every single day, late at night, early morning,” she says.
Originally, Laurie Dystant got into the gym game when she took over a fitness business for toning tables 25 years ago. She ran it from home, but started adding exercise equipment. With parking and other issues, she realized she needed a separate space, so she set up at the new Merecroft Village and opened up at a 1,500-square-foot fitness site. She outgrew the space in the first year, then moved to another spot at Merecroft. Eventually, she moved to the site at what is now Lady Fit, located in a 7,500-square-foot space.
Laurie admits running the gym for women was not her first idea, but she made it work, often having to dismiss the doubts of some in the community about whether she would last. Enough in the community supported her idea though, and last she did. In 2000 however, she took an offer to sell Ladies Fit to the owner of several gyms on Vancouver Island.
“It was really hard to let it go,” she says. “It was time…. It’s a young woman’s business.”
Later, it was sold again and became part of the VI Fitness chain, at least until May 1, when all of the locations were suddenly shuttered.
In the years between, she started a spa, saying that was what she had envisioned doing when she was young.
Courtney Dystant took over and has made the business hers over the last couple of months and already has built a strong customer base. Her mother-in-law says they have added as many as members as it would typically take a gym a year to attract.
Courtney says the Campbell River community has a history with the family and the business, which helped bring members back quickly.
“They loved what Laurie did … with being a locally owned gym,” she says. “Even the feedback from the people coming in now, they’re just so thankful it’s very much the same as when Laurie opened it 25 years ago.”
They were even able to attract manager Erin Dzielak,who had worked with Laurie at the spa but had moved away. Laurie, who admits she is not a Facebook user, happened to be on the social media site and stumbled across the news that Dzielak wanted to move back to Campbell River, so she told her daughter-in-law to hire the manager because the business would need a strong person out front to build customer relations for Lady Fit. Courtney even had a friend who had living space come available at the same time, so the time seemed perfect for everyone involved.
“This was a sign it was meant to be,” Dzielak says.
The equipment is up and running, there are tanning salons and even “child-minding” space. As to where things go, Courtney says they want to remain open to new ideas, as the fitness world can change quickly. Most importantly though, Lady Fit has a mission to provide a welcoming space for women.
“We just want women to feel comfortable and feel positive and safe,” she says. “It’s a place to empower women.”