HOLYOKE — Walking into 413 Family Fitness is like stepping into a 1990s time warp. There is neon graffiti on the bright blue walls, strobe lighting and a giant boombox with cassette tapes decorating the one-room gym.
Juan and Elsie Vazquez opened the gym two years ago. Until the coronovirus pandemic shut down most gyms, the couple had built a successful business offering multiple group exercise classes a day, as well as personal training sessions.
“When we got into business we just jumped in. Neither of us had run a business before, but we knew we wanted to do this, and before COVID-19 it was great,” said Juan Vazquez, who is not only a personal trainer, but a weight-loss success story as well.
“Ten years ago I used to weigh 310 pounds. When I started my weight-loss journey what helped me the most besides nutrition was cardio hip-hop. I just loved to dance,” he said.
It took Vazquez about a year to lose 100 pounds, and he has kept it off through sharing his love of dancing with others.
“When you lose weight, people always ask you how you did it, and I decided if I studied this and got certified I could help other people do what I did,” he said.
He became a certified personal trainer, got a job at the Holyoke YMCA and pitched the idea of teaching a cardio hip-hop class.
“I showed them what I could do and they gave me a chance. It took off from there,” he said.
Vazquez developed a following, including his now-wife, who met him at a class more than five years ago.
“Yup, I married the instructor,” Elsie Vazquez said, laughing.
The couple found common ground in their love for dancing and being active. She has a full-time job with the city of Northampton, but when her husband pitched the idea of opening their own fitness studio, she was in.
“We just jumped and took the leap. We believed we could do it and it has been an incredible journey for us,” she said.
Early in March, as fears about the coronavirus began to grow, the couple chose to shut down their studio at 9 Dillon Ave. and started offering online classes.
“We really had to pivot,” Elsie Vazquez said. “Our people were asking us what we were going to do. They still wanted to exercise.”
The couple offered live classes on Zoom daily, and then posted the videos on the website for clients to watch at their convenience.
“We have been very fortunate that our people have been so loyal and so generous,” she said. “Many of them have paid for sessions even though they are not coming in for classes, and some have even offered their backyard to do outdoor classes.”
The couple reopened the studio in late July, but business has been slow, with many people not wanting to work out indoors.
The Vazquezes are taking a course with an entrepreneurial program in Holyoke called E for All. Through the course they recently conducted a survey to see what the interest level is locally for gym memberships.
“We shared it with our people and their networks, on social media and in the community, and the results were that 70% of people who responded are not comfortable with working out indoors,” Elsie Vazquez said. “For a business like ours, that is a big hit.”
In addition to their virtual classes, the couple offers individual training sessions or group classes for two or three people in the studio at a time.
“The guideline is six feet, but we want to give people a 14-foot option so they can occasionally remove their mask while they work out and for extra safety measures,” she said. “Obviously we are realistic and understand that we can’t survive with those numbers.”
The couple is looking to offer group fitness classes outdoors.
“I would like to see if we can work something out with the parks and recreation department in Holyoke to maybe teach classes in the park,” Juan Vazquez said.
This weekend a friend and fellow fitness instructor, Jac Kie Izquierdo, is holding a cardio dance class with proceeds going to help the couple cover the rent and bills at the gym. The event is already sold out.
“It is so incredibly generous and we can’t thank her enough for this,” Elsie Vazquez said.
On Sunday the Vazquezes will hold a free cardio hip-hop class at Studio 235, an open loft and production studio at 235 Western Ave. in West Springfield. The event will begin at noon with 25 spots available on a first-come, first-served basis.
“We just want to invite people to come see what we are all about and work out in a safe environment that is large enough to accommodate well over six feet of social distancing,” she said.
Vazquez said his main goal is to keep the gym afloat while COVID-19 is still active, and eventually open back up full-time and expand.
“I love to sing as well and I love to have family events with our clients,” he said. “My dream would be to have a bigger studio where we can put a stage and I can sing and dance during the workouts and everyone can have a great time while getting fit.”