Feb. 18, 2022 — When Jim and Deena Mitchell arrived in Florence 30 years ago, they weren’t sure what they were getting in to. Jim had just graduated from Brigham Young University with a master’s degree in exercise physiology and Deena was good with finances and numbers. Seemed like starting a fitness center was the best idea.
Over the next 30 years, though they never regretted that decision, they often wondered if it was a sustainable one. There were many moments where the Mitchells didn’t know if their fitness center would survive — but now, Coastal Fitness is a shining beacon of healthy living in the Florence community.
On Feb. 2, 1992, the Mitchells opened the doors on a small 867-square-foot space in the Florence Business Center on 12th Street in the building that was once Florence’s hospital. The first Coastal Fitness was in the former emergency room.
“So just a tiny little thing,” said Jim. “We had one treadmill, one bike and a stair climber. We had two or three weight machines and some free weights. And that was the start.”
Jim admits he and Deena were new to the fitness business. In fact, they were new to business in general.
“It was a little crazy,” said Jim. “We didn’t even have a receipt book. It was like ‘We’re going to open a business,’ but we didn’t consider what would happen if someone actually came in.”
Things started slow. There were some days when no one showed up. From 6 a.m. when they opened in the morning to 8 p.m., sometimes not one person would have come to work out when the Mitchells closed the doors at night.
“So, we’re sitting there, and we had not had a customer all day,” said Jim. “I’m looking at our balances and we are making just enough to pay the rent and the loan we got to open the place. We had to do something.”
What the Mitchells did is look to southern California, the “Mecca for healthcare,” according to Jim, and hired a consultant, a man by the name of Don deMars.
The consultant flew up and the Mitchells took DeMars around the area. They showed him Florence. They showed him their competition.
“You guys can do this,” deMars said.
That gentle nudge, from someone who was considered an expert, was what the Mitchells needed to believe that though times were tough, the future was bright.
“He gave us just that little ray of hope,” Jim said. “Having someone who was considered an expert say we could do it… it kind of gave us permission to believe in our dream.”
At the time there was an aerobics studio called The Sweatshop in Florence owned by Connie Spinner. When deMars recommended that Spinner and the Mitchells join forces, they did. They also expanded their space. They added a ladies locker room and few other amenities.
One night, in October 1994, word reached the Mitchells that one of their competitors had closed up shop.
“About seven or eight people unexpectedly came through the door,” remembered Jim. “They wanted to sign up for a membership because our main competition in town, the Florence Athletic Club, had closed its doors. That day was a big deal.”
Not that Jim and Deena don’t like a little competition. In fact, according to Jim, most of the other gyms that have opened in Florence over the last 30 years were started by a person that once worked at Coastal Fitness.
“They decided to go out on their own, which is good,” said Jim. “It means that they’re ambitious.”
Eventually Coastal Fitness needed just a bit more room, so they moved into the recently renovated but now empty former home of the Florence Athletic Club (on 15th Street, now home to Word of Mouth Home Goods Store). They stayed in that location for approximately four years.
The Mitchells had rented for the first eight years of Coastal Fitness’ existence, but knew that wasn’t sustainable.
In 1999, the Mitchells bought the strip mall Coastal Fitness now sits in. They began renovations and, in May 2000, they hosted their grand opening in their current location.
In 2009 they added swimming pools to the gym and have been making small steady improvement ever since.
“There’ve been lots of lots of bumps along the way,” said Jim. “It hasn't always been unicorns and rainbows by any stretch, but it's certainly been an amazing adventure. Being in this community and having our family grow up here and having that experience was fantastic.”
COVID, especially, has not been “unicorns and rainbows.” According to Jim, it has been especially tough on businesses like Coastal Fitness that require humans to walk through the doors to make money to keep those doors open.
“COVID has definitely changed the trajectory of business,” said Jim. “There's no real way of getting around that. To be honest, it's really been challenging because you have people with this vast array of ideals coming together in a common spot, and each hoping that we will meet their expectations. They are frustrated either way, whether we are too lenient or not strict enough. That has been a challenge for us because our goal has always been to make every person who walks through the door feel welcome.”
As Jim said, the Mitchells work hard thrive to create an environment where, regardless of who you are, your level of fitness or what you look like, you will feel welcome and comfortable.
“You have places where you have to look beautiful before you can go to the gym,” said Jim. “That’s not what we are. We want people to feel comfortable. Whether they feel fit or feel fat, we want them to feel welcome. Having the added dynamic of COVID has made that a challenge.”
Jim hopes Coastal Fitness can use its 30th year to “rise from the ashes” of COVID. As they always have, he plans to keep the equipment they have in good shape and, when possible, invest in new equipment.
The Mitchells also plan a series of events throughout the year to celebrate their anniversary. The first is the Coastal Fitness Puddle Jump 5k on March 12. For details go to: runsignup.com/Race/OR/Florence/PuddleJump5KCoastalFitness.
Besides their special anniversary events, Coastal Fitness always offers more than 20,000 square feet of exercise variety and play. This includes exercise classes for people of all ages and levels of fitness. There are also aquatic classes, swim lesson and play time in their two pristine pools.
Coastal Fitness has state-of-the-art equipment to power your workout. There are kids’ programs and family-friendly exercise like gymnastics, dance, pickleball, basketball and volleyball.
According to Coastal Fitness’ website, “It's more than fitness class schedules to fit your sometimes crazy life. It's a family, a community. It's a place to connect, feel supported, get stronger, gain confidence and feel your best.”
Coastal Fitness is open Monday through Friday 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, go to mycoastalfitness.com or call 541-997-8086.