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Rumor mill running wild about possible changes at Lawrence Athletic Club


This one is a lot like me staring at a weight bar with about 200 pounds on it: There are more questions than answers.

But I’ve been getting several calls from members of the Lawrence Athletic Club about what the future holds at that facility.

As we reported in March, Wichita-based Meritrust Credit Union filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court seeking ownership of the Lawrence Athletic Club, 3201 Mesa Way, after it alleged LAC owner Rick Sells and his corporation Junkyard’s Jym defaulted on a $2.4 million note.

According to Douglas County property records, Meritrust indeed owns the real estate of the athletic club. That is as expected. The court records indicated Sells did not contest the credit union taking over ownership of the facility. The ownership issue, though, was clouded because another group — The Caspian Group, which is led by longtime Lawrence landlord George Paley — won a nearly $400,000 judgment against Junkyard’s Jym in Douglas County District Court last year, which stemmed from a lease dispute at another location. Sources tell me, though, that a settlement was reached that resolved any claim The Caspian Group may have had against the LAC property.

Even though Meritrust took over ownership of the facility, it never had an intention of running it. What several sources said happened is that Meritrust worked out an agreement with Sells to continue operating the club that he founded nearly 30 years ago.

But now there are questions about whether that relationship will continue. I’ve heard from upwards of a dozen folks now that talk around the club is that either an ownership change or at least a change in the operations of the club is imminent.

Then, there is one other sign that is a bit curious. It is an actual sign. Meritrust has put up a sign next to the club’s entrance advertising the credit union. The sign doesn’t say anything about pending changes, so maybe Meritrust is just seeking to advertise itself to club members. But the sign wasn’t there a few days ago. It popped up shortly after speculation started spreading across town that something was up at LAC.

I’ve put in multiple calls to Sells and stopped by the club to see him over the past several days, but have had no luck in getting a comment from him. An employee at the club declined to comment. An attorney for Meritrust also did not return a phone call seeking comment. A manager with the local Genesis Health Club also didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. I called Genesis because there has been speculation that the large Wichita-based health club chain is set to take over operations of LAC. But that very easily could be false speculation. Genesis’ name frequently comes up anytime there is speculation about a health club in the region.

Certainly speculation is a stock I trade in here at Town Talk. Normally, though, I don’t print speculation regarding businesses that may be faltering. I don’t feel it is fair to report unconfirmed information that could negatively impact the livelihood of a business’ owners and employees.

But I have given the operator of the business ample opportunity to simply say there is nothing to this, and I’ve given the owner of the property opportunity to respond as well. And, importantly, I think the nature of a health club business makes it a bit more imperative that consumers be informed of any potential changes. So often health clubs operate on multi-month memberships that are many times pre-paid.

Unfortunately, I’ve covered several health club closings or ownership changes over the years, and the issue of what happens to a person’s membership to a club often ends up being a sticky one.

Anyway, take all of this for whatever you think it is worth. As I mentioned, there are more questions than answers.

Now, back to this heavy weight bar. Here’s my No. 1 question: Why did I ever believe my wife would help lift this thing off me?


Joe Adams 5 years, 5 months ago

I remember seeing a Meritrust sign up there last winter when all the change in ownership stuff was taking place originally. Not sure that it is the same sign you are referring to but there was definitely a sign up near the entrance that looked more like an advertisement than anything else. Again, it could have changed as I didn't pay attention yesterday when I was there.

Wprcky Mtn 5 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, that sign has been up for at least 2-3 years...if not longer. It's just advertising. If I remember correctly, there used to be another sign for a financial adviser or something along those lines as well.

EarthaKitt 5 years, 5 months ago

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Why all the snarky wife comments?

matthew2600 5 years, 5 months ago

Seriously, it's not funny, I'm not offended, just not laughing at them, ever. I come here to read about new businesses in town, don't need the "take my wife, please" humor.

MarcoPogo 5 years, 5 months ago

And what's the deal with airlines...I mean COME ON!!!

Danielle Brunin 5 years, 5 months ago

If you've ever met Chad's wife, she is the Queen of Snark. She can take it. She's awesome!

Eddie_Haskell 5 years, 5 months ago

Good luck getting ahold of Rick. Typical.

hail2oldku 5 years, 5 months ago

Isn't that the truth. Earlier this year, two months before my membership expired, I submitted a list of questions to Rick and the salesperson that I wanted answered before I would sign a new contract. When my membership expired I continued to go to the gym and check in letting them know I was aware my membership was out of date, but I wouldn't sign anything until I got the answers to my questions. The lady at the front desk stopped me one day and said that the salesman indicated I was ducking his calls - I handed her my cell phone and told her she was welcome to go through the call log and identify when he had called. Then, while I was in a class she came down and said Rick wanted to see me after the class was over. When I finished that class I went to speak with Rick who by chance was called out of the building 5 minutes before the class ended. That was enough of that bu!!s#!+, I knew nothing was ever going to be addressed so I took my business elsewhere and I couldn't be happier.

Eddie_Haskell 5 years, 5 months ago

I used to be really fond of LAC and Rick. The guy was my shop class teacher at CJHS back in the 70's. I was a member of that club for 15 years. I never asked for, nor did I receive any discounts or favors. I even used to pay a year in advance. I had to cancel my membership a year ago November due to a knee injury and other issues. Christ, it really was like pulling teeth. The manager lady kept threatening me and I finally had to have my doctor write a letter stating I was unable to work out. Even then, they charged me for November because I cancelled at the end of October. Through the whole ordeal I was never allowed to speak to my old buddy Rick. I know I signed a contract, but a 15 year paying member? With a legitimate medical reason? Chad, if Rick won't talk to you, keep on speculating. I'm enjoying this.

lunacydetector 5 years, 5 months ago

chad's wife jokes are tame so lighten up.

i told my wife we needed a home improvement loan, so she gave me $1000 and told me to move out....with my wife there's always something, just the other day i called her up and told her i was thinking about the last time we had sex and i was getting excited. she said, 'who is this?'

but, i shouldn't tell jokes about my wife. she's attached to a machine that keeps her alive. it's called a refrigerator......

Eddie_Haskell 5 years, 5 months ago

My wife's a Nun. None in the morning, none at night.

SpeedRacer 5 years, 5 months ago

I am glad you posted this. As some people have posted in other areas, he closed the other club on the third of the month, after dues were collected on the first. While membership was good for the 6th street club ,it wasn't an option for a lot of people and they still had to jump through hoops to get out of their contracts.

chootspa 5 years, 5 months ago

He closed it after accepting the dues and apparently before paying the landlord. Hence the $400,000 lawsuit.

08Champs 5 years, 5 months ago

The column's author has elected to pattern his column as such - it's a blog, not War & Peace. And it's free. I think Chad does a great job of providing the info that most of us want, rather than the press releases other business columns provide.

fatarnie 5 years, 5 months ago

I still enjoy the wife jokes, humor no matter how bad is a nice escape from reality.

Eddie_Haskell 5 years, 5 months ago

My wife ran off with my best friend. I sure do miss him.

Eddie_Haskell 5 years, 5 months ago

My wife said if I don't quit fishing she's gonna leave me. I sure will miss her. I once broke a tooth on my wife's coffee.

irvan moore 5 years, 5 months ago

i see this as a combination of humor and human interest/news, i read most of this just for the comment content

Terry Sexton 5 years, 5 months ago

My wife & I always hold hands. If I let go she starts shopping.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 5 months ago

Can't imagine any rumor of a closing of a heath club is good for business. I mean the buy one year, get year free commercials smell of desperation.

beatrice 5 years, 5 months ago

That is the thing about the rumor mill, it always runs wild. Always. Ever heard of a rumor mill just taking a casual stroll? Nope. By its very nature, it must run wild. It can't just stand still, either. If it did, then it would just be idle gossip, and nobody concerns themself with idle gossip, not even newspaper bloggers.

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