Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Gym owners branch out
in the Bay Area


Maria Perez, left, does pull-ups with Morgan Flores and Kiely Hosmon at the Perfect Sidekick in Oakland. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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Out gym owners are staking claim to a slice of the Bay Area's fitness sector.

In Oakland, Nathalie Huerta, the lesbian owner of the Perfect Sidekick, is scouting for a second location in order to meet increased demand. Since first opening her doors in 2011, Huerta has moved three times due to outgrowing the spaces she had been leasing.

And in San Francisco, gay business partners Kevin McCullough and Luis Chirinos are working to open a gym and fitness center in Potrero Hill called Fitness Urbano. The city's planning commission is expected to approve the permits they need at its Thursday, December 18 meeting, and the pair is looking to open sometime this spring.

According to the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association, the U.S. health club business is booming. Total industry revenue increased by 2.7 percent, from $21.8 billion in 2012 to $22.4 billion in 2013, according to the trade group.

Its yearly report found that revenue growth at independent clubs climbed 3.7 percent in 2013. During the same period, total membership increased by 5.3 percent. The total number of facilities increased by 5.4 percent, from 30,500 to 32,150, which was more than twice the growth rate of the previous year, according to IHRSA.

Membership at Huerta's gym now stands at 158. Located east of Lake Merritt at 2706 Park Boulevard, it is housed in a 2,000 square foot, live-work loft space.

She is in talks with investors, including a member of the gym, in hopes of raising $50,000 to expand. Another possibility is to launch a crowdfunding campaign in the second quarter of 2015.

"We actually are pretty crammed in there now," said Huerta, 30, who is Mexican-American and grew up in Orange County in southern California.

Huerta, who graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in sports medicine, first started out working with individual clients while earning her master's in business from Mills College, which she completed in 2012. She placed a listing on Craigslist advertising herself as a lesbian personal trainer, and from there, her business took off.

"I jokingly call this my unplanned pregnancy. I was trying to get through graduate school and pay bills," recalled Huerta, who is certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. "My clientele grew organically. I was renting a small space, which we outgrew in one year. We moved in to the space next door and outgrew that."

She markets the Perfect Sidekick as a queer gym with the tagline "you know you're curious" and claims to be the "first and only LGBTQ gym in the nation." However, the Washington, D.C.-based Vida Fitness chain is gay-owned and opened in 2007.

Huerta's gym is likely one of the only to ask members to introduce themselves and state what their preferred gender pronoun is at the start of a workout. The gym has become a popular place for transgender people – its locker rooms are non-gender specific – due to the welcoming environment Huerta has worked to foster.

She and her staff regularly invite LGBT groups to provide them not only with sensitivity training but educate them on the physical issues their non-gender conforming members may be dealing with.

"We recognize some members don't conform with the two genders. We have a lot of members who are transitioning," said Huerta. "We, as a staff, need to have training and awareness around that. How are you going to transition your identity with a trainer who has no idea what that is about?"

Although it caters to the LGBT community, the gym welcomes heterosexuals to join. In fact, it is the first thing addressed under the frequently asked questions section of its website.

"One of the most common asked questions is can straight people come," said Huerta. "By far it is the most frequently asked question we get. The answer to that is yes."

The gym offers private training sessions as well as small group workouts. It also organizes social events to provide members a sense of community.

"It is a very healthy way for our community to meet other people in our community outside of bars, nightclubs, and parties," said Huerta. "It is to give you a strong platform for a healthy social circle."

Gym member Tess Unger has been working out at the Perfect Sidekick for nearly two years. Apart from the intimate class sizes, Unger likes the camaraderie the gym fosters.

"I wasn't looking to join a gym at all. I had friends that were always raving about it," said Unger, 40, a queer single mother. "I went and tried it out and fell in love with it. I've been there ever since."

Membership costs $99 a month, and those who sign up by December 31 will get three private workout sessions during their first month.

To learn more about the gym, visit its website at


New gym planned in SF

While the owners of Fitness Urbano are two gay men, the Potrero Hill gym will be marketed more as a neighborhood serving business.

Since 2012 Chirinos, who grew up in Venezuela and studied to be a mechanical engineer, has been looking to open his own place. He moved to California in 2000 and has been working as a personal fitness instructor and massage therapist through his business Physical Change.

McCullough, who first met Chirinos 10 years ago, is a massage therapist whose studio Body and Form is in the Castro. In the summer of 2013 the friends decided to partner up and open their own gym.

They searched for spaces in the city's southeastern neighborhoods before signing a five-year lease for the 6,600 square foot warehouse space at 80 Missouri Street.

"This is a great area. There are very little, if any, other gyms. The nearest is half a mile away," said McCullough. "The neighborhood is pretty underserved."

They both plan to transition their current client base to the new gym once they open their doors, which they hope will be sometime between March and May of next year. They are also recruiting other personal fitness trainers and massage therapists to operate out of their gym.

Once they receive the go ahead from the city – planning staff have recommended that the planning commission approve the gym's permits – the owners need to hire a contractor to remodel the interior space and build locker rooms and shower facilities.

The gym will offer a variety of classes, from yoga to Zumba to mixed martial arts conditioning. Monthly memberships will cost $80, with various package deals offered for classes.

"Our model isn't like other gyms, so we are not just signing up members," said McCullough. "We are focused on helping people meet their personal training goals and focused on recruiting all the best personal trainers."

For more information about the gym, visit its website at

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