Facing a huge rent increase, Custom Fitness has been forced from its longtime Castro Street location, and Mountain View city officials won't allow the owner to relocate elsewhere on the city's main street.
Owner Dale Dunlap said her landlord, apartment development and management giant Prometheus Real Estate Group, upped her rent to $12,000 from $5,500 for the 2,200-square-foot space at 650 Castro St., which sits below a large apartment complex.
Opening in 2004, the small gym staffed with personal trainers and masseurs had become "quite successful" and was growing in popularity among downtown start-up employees. On top of more than 70 regular clients, she provided service to a nearby Mozilla office with 120 employees. She said three other companies requested similar services recently, which she couldn't provide.
According to Dunlap, the tech start-up Sococo will be expanding into the space she has vacated. Custom Fitness closed its doors on June 30.
"The landlords know they can get the highest rents from dot-coms," Dunlap said.
The demand for office space in downtown is at an all-time high, with vacancy rates approaching zero as tech start-ups lease every available space. But as a result, "personal service businesses like mine are being squeezed out," Dunlap said. "We tried for six months to find a new location in downtown Mountain View."
Dunlap said the business was her "baby," and the only one like it downtown. With 15 years of experience, she'd take on school teachers and the elderly, and "I would do a special rate," Dunlap said. "It ate into my profit and it was hard, but they need to be fit, too. Everybody needs to be fit." She would tell her clients that she was still a "volunteer mom" having raised three kids in Mountain View.
She found another location on Castro Street's 200 block, but the city planning department said a fitness center wouldn't be a good fit. She even had the help of a City Council member, Laura Macias, but no luck. "She was working real hard to try to get this to happen," Dunlap said.
The city wants retail or restaurants only on Castro Street, said her lawyer, Frank Flocks. "A service business doesn't have a chance," Flocks said. "It's a real shame."
Dunlap wonders why she wasn't told about restrictions on Castro Street when she first moved there. Officials encouraged her to look for space just off of Castro Street, but she could not find anything available, she said.
Flocks blamed the rent increase on the city's zoning, which is unusual in allowing office use on a first floor of some of the city's main downtown streets.
Dunlap said she is trying to keep the business together as one of her employees, personal trainer Daniel Green, takes over the business and applies for city permits to move the operation to Polaris Avenue, a 1.3-mile trip from the old location. Until then, she and Green will be working out of Shawsu, a similar business at Loyola Corners.
Like the Castro Street location, the Polaris Avenue location also requires a conditional use permit from the city's zoning administrator.
"It's not easy trying to get all these things done," Dunlap said of the city's permit process. "It is one slow process after another."
"We have to look forward," she said. The new location is larger, but customers from downtown "will now have to drive to us instead of walk, that's the bummer."
Updates on the effort to move the business can be found at custom-fitness.com.