Monday, December 10, 2012

Synergy Ends

Celebrate President’s Day by being more Lincoln… less Taft. That is an example of the chalk board humor appearing daily at Synergy Gym on Newark Avenue.
William Howard Taft, 27th president of the United Staff, weighed 300 lbs. and famously had a new White House bath tub custom-made to accomodate his ample girth after getting stuck in the old one. He was also the only president to also serve as Supreme Court Justice. (but that's not as funny). The chalkboards outside Synergy Gym on Newark Avenue were not history lessons, but how often does one encounter a Taft joke anywhere?
Probably because of my Gold Coast Gym loyalty – the gym that was across the street – and because the board jokes received other publicity, here’s an AdWeek mention – I’ve never blogged about these clever bon mots. The best were subtle enough to give you pause; make you scratch your head. You get the joke mid-scratch…. Oh yeah, the 27th President of the United States… more often than not, they caused a laugh, at least a chuckle. Ironic, often topical and usually more than a tad snarky, they always made you smile. 
Newark Avenue Is the main thoroughfare of Jersey City, at least its Downtown Neighborhood. If you have to take the Grove Street Path to work or have anything else to do in this neighborhood, you pass Synergy every day. Tens of Thousands of people pass by the chalk board sayings. Their pleasant sarcasm and soft urgings towards fitness and health, replete with cultural references, were fun to look at. Might not make a bad day better enough not to be a bad day, but they made any day a little better nonetheless. Who among us is unable to appreciate a free smile?

Pedestrians looked forward to the chalk board musings. It was a daily smile. Also a low tech and original marketing tool, that for a while at least, seemed to win the Newark Avenue gym wars.
These clever taglines were the work of local comedian Joe D'Allegro, who also works as a copywriter.
Here’s a Flickr Page of his chalk board work. (The examples Dislocated here are copied from this page).
He also organizes an ongoing comedy review at local bars – I mean, a-hem, clubs – Shut Up & Laugh Comedy Show.
Downtown is now much less funny. We are no longer as amused. Synergy has ended on Newark Avenue and with the closing of the gym, our daily sidewalk one liners are likewise no more.


I have no idea if the other Synergy locations – there are some in the city and (Manhattan and some boroughs, if youse have to ask) – are closing. Their website still lists the Jersey City location as opened.
The gates are down, the lights out, fliers are taped to the window. The desk, computer and equipment are still visible in the darkness. The flier blames Sandy and the Economy, with our famed Super Storm seen as the final nail in our soggy coffin. The gym had a basement level section, packed with weight lifting and cardio equipment. I can’t imagine that basement area remaining immune to the intense sogginess of Sandy. Rust never sleeps.


Nonetheless, the owner of another gym told me that they were trying to “unload” their members on him since August, so Synergy ending may not be as sudden a closure as it appears, especially to the members. Unload was not said in a nasty way. Apparently the law in New Jersey is that if a gym can give a member a membership at another gym that is within 25 miles, the gym that is closing is under no legal obligation to refund your membership fee. Synergy has apparently made a deal with a gym a few blocks away in the Power House district. Synergy’s days were numbered even before Sandy. That whole block, which included Hudson Camera, is undergoing a severe transformation, and who knows what will be appear post-makeover. Probably not a gym, which is basically a service for people already living here. The long anticipated restaurant row (We’re getting as bad as Hoboken!) seems much closer to fruition, and with it the dreams of out-of-city dollars enriching our local economy.
After enjoying our Two Boots Pizza and Barcode lager, don’t forget to shop at our CH Martins!
Synergy was sort of the first of the new wave of post-911 business to open on Newark Avenue, downtown’s main thoroughfare. I was a member of Gold Coast Gym & Fitness, the first gym in downtown (well, the first gym with no risk of contracting a typhoid infection; the pre-Gold Coast gyms in the area, now long gone, were filthy). Gold Coast straddled the phases of pre-and-post gentrification. Gold Coast, which originally opened in a smaller location on Montgomery Street in the 90s, was the first new business on Newark Avenue in several years when it first moved at the brink of our new century. Gold Coast established the fact there was a market for a quality gym.
Tellingly, Gold Coast was located in the basement of New Jersey’s best ghetto fabulous discount department store chain, good old C.H. Outside the entrance to the basement level hangs a space available for rent sign, there since the gym’s demise. Years later, the former Gold Coast space – which includes an expanded locker room and special chair lift for the disabled – is still unoccupied.


Club H and Brick Haus – the two much higher priced gyms, both larger, more corporate, with special perks like steam rooms and hygienic showers – have now established that there is a market – at least for now – for a very expensive gyms in downtown, but Synergy was the first one to compete against Gold Coast. Synergy moved in to the market Gold Coast created, or at least was the first to see the potential of servicing what once was an inner city neighborhood undergoing a very slow gentrification. Synergy accelerated that gentrification and now has likewise fallen victim to it. Everyone is cutting back, those still working are not getting raises while prices of EVERYTHING keep rising. Unforeseen trends are emerging. I don’t think Gen Y is as gym enthusiastic as Gen X and the Baby Boomers, and of course they are still young enough that their bodies have yet to succumb to the inevitability of encroaching decrepitude.
For a while though, in the 00’s, Synergy and Gold Coast had a gym war going on. Their prices were comparable. They had the same amount of equipment. Gold Coast was a little bigger, noticeably cleaner. Friendliest gym in town claimed the Gold Coast banners; $99 first year said Synergy. Some of the Gold Coast members joined Synergy (and many came back). Synergy was new – it has a great name – and a membership meant you could work out in their other locations, a plus if you worked and/or played nearby one of their Manhattan locations. Gold Coast had some issues with its landlord, and moved a few storefronts down, opening up as the ill-conceived Fit & Trim, which lasted only a few months.
By the time Joe’s chalk lines appeared, it seemed Synergy won the downtown Jersey City gym wars.
The only comparably priced downtown gym is World Wide Boxing & Fitness (which is clean and well-equipped and where I work out), on Division Street, is clean and competitively priced. When Gold Coast closed, I did consider Synergy, but I found it grimy and cramped, although the guys working there were nice and seemed trustworthy.
Worldwide is far away from the PATH Station, as is the gym assuming Synergy’s members (I wonder if they can still work out at Manhattan locations?)

Every time I see a closed business, my heart sinks. Job loss only breeds more job loss. Several issues were debated during our recent national election, but a coherent and effective policy for creating jobs did not emerge. The end of Synergy is just another reason our collective anxiety increases.

But the more notable and immediate loss has to be Joe D'Allegro's daily "funny."


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