Taming the Wild West


Booming West Loop a Hotbed for Fitness Sports


Back in the mid-1980s, the idea of participating in sports in the West Loop involved trying to find safe passage through it on the way to see Denis Savard perform his ‘spin-o-rama’ for the Blackhawks or hot new draft pick Michael Jordan slam dunk for the Bulls at Chicago Stadium. It was a cold and industrial area, often thought of as a haven for crime.


Ask anyone to describe the West Loop today, and they’re likely to mention cranes and condos.


“Everyday I see a new crane out, a sign for a new restaurant that’s opening, so it’s definitely booming,” Kim Reed, newly married and living in the West Loop, says. She joined Crosstown Fitness on a lark and now prefers its boutique style to big box gyms, joining a flood of fitness-minded new residents making the West Loop a hotbed for fitness and endurance sports.


Charlie Graff, who opened Crosstown Fitness a year ago, has witnessed the changes. A former teacher at Whitney Young, he’s lived in the area for 10 years.


“I had a club in the suburbs,” Graff says. “The last three years I’ve been combing the city of Chicago trying to find the right neighborhood. The West Loop fit the demographic of what we were looking for.”


Robin French of Bare Feet Power Yoga saw an opportunity and took it.


“They didn’t have a lot of yoga here at the time, and I knew it was going to be a great neighborhood. I loved it already,” she says. “Right now the West Loop is booming with so many new condos and high rises on Halsted. People are gravitating toward the West Loop. The great thing is there’s a lot of residential [space], and with fitness, the more convenience the better.”


Convenience applies to those traveling from outside the West Loop as well, according to Jessica Wilson of Wilson Fitness Studios.


“It’s pretty conveniently located for those in suburbs, people traveling to and from work,” Wilson says. “It’s really a growing neighborhood, lots of growth potential and not fully established yet.”


Wilson opened Wilson Fitness Studios in the neighborhood a little over a year ago.


“There’s more of a demand here now because condos are stacking up here, a lot of urban professionals moving here,” she says. “Google is moving here. So much is happening here.”


For Annette Fiscelli, who co-owns On Your Mark Coaching + Training with Emily Hutchins, it was a matter of starting a business where you live.


“Emily and I, we were just trainers then, we had a small studio down the street on Ogden,” Fiscelli says. “We thought, let’s put a small class together to make [personal training] affordable.” Their studio only fit five people, and when classes filled up and they needed a bigger facility, they found it right there in the West Loop.


“Five years ago people asked us, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ It has [a] more neighborhood feel now. I think that boutique gyms are in right now, they’re hot.”


Recognizing the trends, Fiscelli and Hutchins do what they can to set their business apart.


“[Boutique gyms] usually offer one thing, but we have a little bit of everything, for endurance athletes or someone who just wants to get in shape,” Fiscelli says.


While On Your Mark came to the West Loop years ago, Mox Multisport opened its doors in the area as Mission Bay Multisport 15 years ago. Amy Comstock worked there for years and took ownership in 2009, fully understanding the potential of the neighborhood.


“I remember when it was not what it is today,” Comstock says. “There weren’t a lot of people living here. Now we’re surrounded by so much construction, some are trying to get landmark status [for buildings] to slow things down.”


Her store is still a multisport cycling store, but with a more laid back mentality than before. Regardless, Mox Multisport still caters to competitive athletes, which seems to fit the attitude of the area.


“I think being a female-owned store changed our approach to customer,” Comstock says. “It’s less intimidating than when it was a guy-owned store, much more customer focused, concentrating on putting people with the right equipment. One hour we will put someone on an $800 starter bike, next hour we will sell someone a $10,000 race bike.”


Gillian Fealy, owner of brand new triathlon store Live Grit, embraces a similar philosophy.


“Our store is not about competition or gear,” Fealy says. “Our key customer is doing it for the internal thing. What’s inside gets us outside: camaraderie, setting goals, live a more engaged life, not how fast you did your last marathon. It’s about, ‘did you enjoy it?’”


So who exactly enjoys the West Loop’s fitness boom?


“Young professionals that are either starting off or getting settled in their career,” Wilson says. “At that age they start to think about working out and being more conscious of it, making it more of a lifestyle.”


Many in that demographic shun box or chain fitness places. Charlie Hirsch, a songwriter who recently moved to Chicago from Los Angles, works out at Coöp Gym.


“I avoid the bigger chains. I like the smaller mom and pop gyms,” he says. “They seem to have their stuff in order and also keep their numbers small. At Coöp, they have a theory behind what they do, a strategic plan that I appreciate. I do feel like I’ve seen a lot of results and a lot more people come through there, definitely more members than when I started with them back in the fall.”


Reed loves the lifestyle the West Loop provides.


“It’s definitely booming, and I feel like it’s mostly young professionals like me that want to live the city life without being 22 anymore, that don’t like be hung over, no club scene, but we still like to have a good time,” she says.


It’s a neighborhood that caters to urban professionals who make fitness a priority in their lives and want to live in a place that is less about a party scene but still has plenty of vibe. What once seemed merely a place to find safe passage through now houses many fit, active, urban professionals and young families. Just watch out for the cranes.