Couple purchases fitness facility, makes new start

Anytime Fitness co-owner Alice Muellerweiss, from left, manager Debbie Simmons and co-owner Kevin Watson stand next to a stair stepper at the Strasburg business. Muellerweiss and Watson bought Anytime Fitness in December. Henry Culvyhouse/Daily

STRASBURG — For years, Alice Mullerweiss and Kevin Watson lived in the hustle and bustle of Alexandria.

The married couple, both formerly in the U.S. Army — he a retired officer and teacher of tactics, resilience and leadership at Fort Belvoir and she a retired Army private working in the Pentagon — are from small North Carolina towns and they longed for an area with a slower pace and a cheaper cost of living.

So when they came across their “dream home” in Strasburg in 2011, they were ecstatic. They could ride their bikes on the local roads, hike trails in Shenandoah National Park and eat at the local mom and pop diners.

But the couple wanted to do something more than just enjoy their leisure. They wanted to bring “something of value” to the community.

So in December, Watson and Mullerweiss bought Anytime Fitness at Founders Way. Founded in 2002, the Anytime Fitness franchise is a 24-hour a day, seven days a week gym with more than 2,500 owner-operated franchises serving 2 million people in 16 countries and all 50 states.

The Strasburg location was established about eight years ago.

Mullerweiss said what got her into fitness was her own struggles with weight after leaving the Army.

“I am an average, every-day [person] who strives to be well,” Mullerweiss said. “I left the military and gained 50 pounds because I was not focused on my well being, but on going to college and raising a family … I did not fit wellness in, but now I do fit it in.”

What attracted them to buying to the gym was its culture, Mullerweiss said.

“I’ve been a member of many gyms, some I have enjoyed, others not so much,” Mullerweiss said. “The culture here feels like its home … I can come into the gym, get on a machine, say hello to some people, then feel like I’m working out at home.”

Watson said the two qualities Anytime Fitness brings to the table are its convenience and safety.

“At the corporate level, they call the locations ‘territories’ and they keep those territories pretty close, so you can always find one to work out at down the street,” Watson said, adding “We also have 24-hour surveillance inside the gym and in the parking lot and buttons folks can push to get the police down here if something were to happen.”

Mullerweiss’ experience in the Army will help her run the business, she said.

“When I was at the Pentagon, I managed people and budgets, so even though I have a learning curve with the private sector, I do have the fundamentals,” Mullerweiss said. “One thing I was taught in the Army was to look for people with passion and a good attitude to work for you. You can teach the skills later.”

The gym has about 700 members, Mullerweiss said. She said one the biggest assets for the gym is its manager, Debbie Simmons. A former ice skater and a body builder, Simmons has managed the gym for four years.

“Debbie is what makes this place work,” Mullerweiss said. “She brings the culture, she makes it a great environment and makes it safe … Debbie brings a lot of passion to the job.”

Simmons said she is happy with the change in ownership because it will allow her to involve the gym more in the community.

“My hands became tied to not go beyond the gym door,” Simmons said. “Alice and Kevin have come and now I can go beyond the gym door.”

Simmons said one of the greatest aspects of her job is making personal connections with the gym members.

“I get emotional about it sometimes, but I really like supporting people in their commitment to becoming fit and healthy,” Simmons said. “This is not an easy fix, quick solution. This is a lifelong commitment.”

When new members start slipping on their New Year’s resolutions, Simmons said she calls them to find out what happened to them and what she can do to get them back in the gym.

Mullerweiss said Simmons will oversee the daily operations, with the help of two hires and a locally contracted cleaning crew, while she and her husband will promote the gym in the community.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s marketing, it’s more trying to educate people, trying to get them out there moving and eating healthier,” Mullerweiss said. “We want the community to get healthier and become more active.”

While the gym’s promotion efforts are still being mulled over, Watson said it might hold work sessions at the park in downtown Strasburg.

“They’re probably going to have to get the police to control traffic, having a bunch of our members working out there,” Watson said, with a laugh. “Heck, if we get big enough, they might have to build a bigger park.”

Anytime Fitness is located at 100 Founders Way in Strasburg, just off of Old Valley Pike. There will be an open house Feb. 9 for members and non-members starting at 7 p.m.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com