AUGUSTA — Delays caused Anthony Oglesby to postpone the ribbon-cutting for his new Augusta business Thursday, in just another in a sequence of postponements the New Hampshire-based entrepreneur has faced.

The biggest delay, bar none, has been the COVID-19 pandemic that has hobbled all kinds of businesses with closures and gathering restrictions, but few more so than gyms and fitness centers.

While many people have turned to in-home options or replaced gym time with outdoor pursuits, Oglesby is betting big on the return to gyms. He is just days away from opening All Out Fitness at the Turnpike Mall with state-of-the-art weight strength and cardio equipment. It will be his second All Out Fitness location after the first that has opened just north of Concord, New Hampshire. A third is now under development in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, by the end of March, Planet Fitness is expected to open up a new, larger facility at 152 Western Ave. at the Capitol Shopping Center, that will more than double the space available and be able to offer the full slate of services, including hydromassage and tanning, that the current space cannot accommodate.

“In the Augusta market and for the people who live there, we just needed to be bigger,” said Mike Cleary, managing partner for Granite Coast properties, owner of five Planet Fitness franchises in Maine.

While the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, people across the United States have been returning to gyms and fitness centers in numbers close to pre-pandemic levels. Placer.ai, a company that tracks and provides analysis of foot traffic, reports that while gym visits declined in the fall as they tend to do in ordinary times, visits over the summer had nearly made up for pandemic losses.

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PITFALLS ALONG THE WAY

When Cleary’s company acquired the existing Planet Fitness on Civic Center Drive in 2012, it has already been in operation for about six years. Even before the pandemic struck, he had been looking for a larger space because there was no space to expand where he was.

He was looking for a high-visibility space on a well traveled road with good parking. While a number of spaces were available, some were in older buildings and needed more work. Eventually, he found what he needed at 152 Western Ave. in the Capitol Shopping Center plaza, which is also home to Shaw’s Supermarket.

Among the work being done to the 23,000-square-foot space is removing the second floor in the space to open up the building, replacing the HVAC system and work on the building’s façade.

A large two-story open area is under construction Thursday for a new Planet Fitness location in the Capitol Shopping Center plaza, which is also home to Shaw’s supermarket, in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“A lot of people are looking for a little more room, a little more air theses days, so we’re really happy about this location,” he said.

The leased was signed last summer and demolition started in September. Cleary said he anticipates the new facility will be open in the second half of March.

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At the start of the pandemic, he said, customers were initially cautious. But with the advent of vaccines, customers have said they want to return to the gym and to their usual exercise routines.

The exterior view of construction underway for a new Planet Fitness location in the Capitol Shopping Center plaza, which is also home to Shaw’s supermarket, in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“The CDC reports that even one workout can reduce a person’s risk of depression and anxiety while improving sleep,” he said. “People have become so much more conscious of the benefits of exercise.”

Cleary said the focus has been on larger spaces. He moved his Westbrook facility to a larger space in South Portland in November 2020, about eight months into the pandemic.

Oglesby’s challenges have been larger than just the pandemic, which slowed the process of renovating three commercial spaces in the Turnpike Mall on Western Avenue, just west of Interstate 95, into a single 17,000-square-foot space.

Co-owner and founder Anthony Oglesby shows an aromatherapy pod during a tour Thursday of the new All Out Fitness location under construction at the Turnpike Mall in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In June 2021, Oglesby was in a car crash on Interstate 93 near Meredith and he is still recovering.

Oglesby, who graduated from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, got his start at Planet Fitness and later started TapouT Fitness, which he started to franchise. After selling off half of the brand, he took some time off with his family.

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Eventually, he started a small club under the name All Out Fitness, and he started to pay attention to what people wanted.

“I thought of the camaraderie aspect of the gym, that’s what brings people together,” he said.

Co-owner and founder Anthony Oglesby, left, and co-owner and general contractor Jeff Blizzard stand Thursday in their new All Out Fitness location under construction at the Turnpike Mall in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

He plans to foster that camaraderie with a host of offerings in addition to the usual weight training and cardio equipment with aromatherapy pods, tanning, haircuts and manicures.

CENTRAL MAINE MARKET

Oglesby was drawn to Augusta because it shares a number of attributes with Concord, New Hampshire’s state capital. And just like growth drove investment in that community, he sees a similar trend developing in central Maine.

“Everything has a cycle, and Augusta is on an upward trend,” he said. “I want to be known for helping to grow and bring in a top-notch, high-end facility at an affordable rate. There’s going to be a huge influx in Augusta come the next 10 to 15 years.”

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Maine is home to 11 Planet Fitness facilities, including five owned by Cleary’s company. In addition to Augusta, his company operates Portland, South Portland, Falmouth and Rockland locations.

“We’re really excited because we wanted to invest in the Augusta market for some time,” he said. “We wanted to bring the full Planet Fitness model to the market and we wanted to see if we would relocate or renovate the existing place.”

The exterior view of the new All Out Fitness location under construction at the Turnpike Mall in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Keith Luke, deputy director of development services for the city of Augusta, said it is good to see the investments being made by these companies at both of these locations.

The shopping plazas, along Augusta’s main commercial strip, are among those that have had high-profile vacancies as large national retailers have reduced their footprints by closing some stores or have shuttered entirely.

“It’s certainly been challenging from our standpoint to work around those vacancies,” Luke said. “These will be relatively high-traffic enterprises that I hope will breathe some new air into those retail complexes.”

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