Yellowstone Fitness Featured in the Billings Gazette

Local instructor buying, renaming Oz Fitness

Original Article:

Oz Fitness has struggled to lift the weight of bankruptcy since last fall, but a new owner says he’s ready to pump up the flailing Billings gym.

Don Christensen, 48, of Billings, announced last week he is buying the health club anchoring the West Park Promenade and renaming it Yellowstone Fitness. He has signed a 20-year lease with the mall’s owners.

A co-owner of Hardin Chevrolet, Christensen said he plans to invest a half-million dollars on new equipment and renovations inside.

“People are glad that it’s finally going to be locally owned. The local ownership means a lot because it means we’ll take a lot of pride in it,” Christensen said.

The purchase will be final May 1, and the gym will close for five days for renovations before reopening May 6. Christensen declined to give a sales price for the gym.

Christiansen and Jamey Eisenbarth co-own the gym at 1595 Grand Ave., Suite 265, and the auto dealerships in Hardin and Billings. Christiansen, a 14-year instructor, said he will be at Yellowstone Fitness full time, while Eisenbarth will oversee the car sales.

Oz Fitness had operated at West Park Promenade for about a decade, taking over the spot formerly held by 24-Hour Fitness. Owner Ian Riley, a former Australian bodybuilder, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2013 but kept all gyms operating. He owns four other gyms in Spokane and another in Oregon.

At the time of the filing, the Billings gym listed assets of about $32,000 and liabilities of $186,501, including back rent payments, according to bankruptcy court documents.

Christensen said he negotiated a new lease with West Park Promenade and will not carry any of Oz’s debt.

In addition to buying new weights, treadmills, stationary bikes and other equipment, Christensen said he plans to redo the floors and steam clean the facility.

Oz Fitness has about 4,000 members on the books, but only about 2,700 show up weekly, Christensen said. Membership was inflated because Oz was selling “lifetime” passes for $200, a practice Christensen said he will discontinue. Instead, current members can apply the money they’ve already spent as credits for their $29.99 monthly membership fee.

Yellowstone Fitness enters a competitive local market with more than a half-dozen fitness clubs in Billings, but the industry overall is growing.

Nationwide, membership in health clubs rose 2.7 percent in 2013, according to the Boston-based International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. The trade group also noted that demand is rising for smaller, more personalized classes.

Christensen recognizes this trend, and he’s going to set aside half of the basketball court for premium classes for additional fees, such as boot camp, kickboxing and other high-energy cardio exercises. Nonmembers can also sign up for these classes.

“We’re going to try to have it all under one roof,” he said.

Christensen said he also plans to move the front desk, install an apparel store, juice bar and lounge, and offer free wireless Internet. He plans to sell smoothies, protein drinks, high-end exercise clothing and other fitness gear.

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