Smaller gyms gain ground

Boutique fitness programs remain pumped for retail space

At 155 Spring Street, in a dusty expanse of nearly 8,000 square feet in Soho, construction workers are laying wires and installing lighting and floors.

In a few short months, the tenant, who will operate New York’s first franchise of the Bar Method, an exercise program, hopes to transform the space into a boutique fitness studio, adding to a number of similar spaces that have sprung up in the city in recent years.

Other boutique studios like this, such as the celeb-frequented SoulCycle (which debuted a 3,700-square-foot Tribeca branch last month) and the Personal Training Institute (whose 2,700-square-foot Chelsea franchise opened in January), have, surprisingly, continued leasing retail space during the downturn.

“This is kind of the next phase,” said Robert K. Futterman & Associates broker Brandon Singer of the expansion of boutique gyms. Singer worked on both the SoulCycle and Personal Training Institute deals.

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For their Spring Street studio, the Bar Method secured a 10-year lease and money toward tenant improvements from owner Vornado Realty Trust, said co-owner Kristin Kelleher. Asking rent for the space was between $50 and $55 per square foot, according to Kelleher’s broker, Cynthia Wasserberger of Jones Lang LaSalle.

The smaller boutique gyms have lower overheads than big city gyms like the Equinox and Crunch. They also have steep admissions fees — both SoulCycle and the Upper East Side’s the Studio, which opened in March 2008, charge $32 a class. SoulCycle also has a $3,000 “SuperSoul” package.

But when it comes to searching for a space, boutique studio owners can be a selective bunch. The Bar Method’s co-owners spent five months on a hunt that included tours of 100-plus properties on three trips from San Francisco. (The exercise program, which is popular in California, combines dance conditioning, isometrics, interval training and physical therapy.)

“This was the only site where we didn’t feel like we were compromising,” said co-owner Timothy Kelleher, who was looking for a large space unobstructed by columns, and functioning windows in three workout rooms.

Tricia Shiland’s spinning center operates the Studio on the second floor of an Upper East Side townhouse. She is exploring her options to expand.