Enterprise Briefing: Homosexual-owned gyms increase in San Francisco :: Bay Space Reporter

Two gay-owned gyms have expanded in San Francisco, MX3 Fitness and SF Squared Inc. They are part of a wave of locally owned fitness businesses that have moved into vacant storefronts this year in neighborhoods throughout the city.

MX3 Fitness co-owners and husbands Glenn Shope and Dave Karraker in early May opened their new gym in the Noe Valley neighborhood. Their location at 4045 24th Street is now their fourth in San Francisco.

In mid-May Race Cooper opened his first brick-and-mortar location for his fitness business in the Valencia Corridor commercial district. Called the Training Garage, it is located at 1441-A Stevenson Street off Clinton Park near Duboce Avenue.

SF Squared Inc. owner Race Cooper stands in front of a mural at the Training Garage. Photo: Travis Monson  

“People are going to local, small gyms to get their workouts. Not just here in San Francisco but throughout the U.S. small gyms are replacing larger gyms,” said Cooper, CEO and head coach for SF Squared.

The increase in smaller, personally owned gyms is an outgrowth of the COVID health crisis, Shope contended. With people no longer commuting to downtown offices, they aren’t going to the larger gyms nearby, he noted, and because they continue to work more days at home, that has remained the case.

“I think people got accustomed to working out close to home because they couldn’t go to a big box gym,” he said.

During the start of the pandemic Shope and Karraker launched the San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition to lobby for independent gyms and studios that had been severely impacted, first, by forced shutdowns then by the new restrictions placed on them in order to safely reopen. The couple, who live in the Twin Peaks neighborhood, have maintained the coalition to continue advocating for the needs of, and providing support to, local fitness proprietors.

The need for smaller fitness places located near where people live is helping to fill vacant storefronts along neighborhood commercial corridors, pointed out Karraker. Along upper Market Street in the Castro LGBTQ district, for instance, several new smaller gyms have opened or are set to this year.

“Look at the Castro and its empty retail spaces. People should be applauding anybody who moves in,” said Karraker, a former co-president of the neighborhood’s business association.

SF Squared Inc. plants a home
Cooper, 50, believes he is the city’s first Black LGBTQ+ owner of a personal training gym and very likely could be the first former porn actor to own their own gym. He was an exclusive star with Falcon Studios until retiring in 2014.

During an interview May 15 on the first day he had opened the Training Garage, Cooper told the Bay Area Reporter he had searched to see if another porn star had done so and couldn’t find anyone.

(Cooper is the name he took on when he began his porn career. Because of past incidents with fans of his X-rated film work stalking him, Cooper asked that his given name and his husband’s name not be published for security reasons.)

He grew up in Toronto, Canada and worked as a gymnastics coach for the local YMCA. He also became a CrossFit trainer and has maintained his core tenets of wanting people to be smart, fit, safe, and have fun when they workout.

“I saw my clients get results faster through my education training,” said Cooper, who moved to San Francisco in 2008.

A key focus for Cooper has been education and teaching his clients how to safely work out.

“There wasn’t enough fitness education available,” he noted. “I want people feeling confident in their knowledge of fitness equipment and their own bodies so they can continue to have healthy, active lifestyles.”

A decade ago, working as a trainer at a Castro gym, he had been in talks to purchase it but opted against doing so. He was then rejected by the owner of a vacant storefront in the neighborhood who said they didn’t want it being used for a gym, though Cooper told the B.A.R. he felt it had more to do with him being a person of color, suspicions he said were confirmed when he saw a yoga studio open in the space.

He then sought a lease in 2019 for a space in the Bayview, a historically Black neighborhood in the city, accessible by Muni’s T subway line. But then COVID hit, and unsure of the future for fitness businesses, Cooper worked out a deal with his landlord to end his lease early.

He had moved his personal fitness training sessions online and worked out from the backyard of his apartment in the city’s Park Merced housing development. Depressed, Cooper and his husband adopted a Boston terrier puppy they named Gracie Lou Freebush after Sandra Bullock’s character in the 2000 film “Miss Congeniality.”

Using a $30,000 loan he received via an emergency fund setup due to COVID, Cooper bought a van so he could travel to clients’ homes for their personal fitness classes. It was up and running by the summer of 2021.

“I had a waiting list in no time,” he recalled.

Then the couple moved to Oakland’s Montclair district, but having no garage and not wanting to park his van on the street, Cooper began to look for a solution. He obtained some funding from Working Solutions CDFI last year with the caveat the nonprofit incubator of minority- and women-owned businesses would provide him a larger loan if he secured a location by the start of 2024.

“This was the first of three places I looked at. I thought it was perfect; it was a blank box in a central location,” said Cooper of the garage-like space he ended up leasing.

While it is off the beaten path, Cooper said he didn’t need to be on a high-trafficked street since his gym is by appointment only. It has space to park his van upfront, with the rear space divided into two workout areas with a changing room and a bathroom though no shower.

The setup allows him to rent out one area to other personal trainers in need of a space to meet their clients while he uses the other area for his own clientele. He is now looking to hire two trainers to take over the mobile classes he has been offering.

Mobile sessions cost $160, while in-studio ones run $130, with either an hour long. He still offers online training for $90 a session and is continuing with his boot camps offered in city parks or for corporate clients.

“I used my ‘gymagination’ to do this,” said Cooper, who had a muralist friend paint his company logo on one wall and a city scene with his van on another.

Wait list at MX3 Fitness
With membership at its Noe Valley gym capped at 200 people, MX3 Fitness has a waiting list for those who want to become members. However, sessions with one of the personal trainers at the gym can be booked by anyone, even nonmembers, based on availability.

The main workout room of the 2,500 square foot space is divided in half. The right side of the gym has various workout equipment and weights for use by the personal trainers.

The area is also available for use by reservation in hourlong intervals. A person can work out alone or with a friend.

The four workout stations set up on the left side each have the various equipment needed to do a full workout with weights. Each station accommodates one person or two workout partners who can reserve it in hourlong blocks of time.

Shope, 53, and Karraker, 56, had implemented the setup when they reopened their gyms during the first year of the COVID pandemic in 2020 and have kept it due to the positive feedback from their members. It means at any given time no more than 16 people can be working out in the Noe Valley location.

“We don’t want a crowded, big box gym,” said Karraker. “We want you to have a very personalized, low-stress experience.”

Monthly memberships begin at $99 and are based on how much access a person wants to the gym. There are one, three, five, or seven days a week options capping out at $219 a month; members can also add a workout partner to their membership for an extra $20.

The gym is dog-friendly, so members can bring their canine companions with them. Most days the gym’s mascot, Liz Lemon Claiborne Taylor Colton Smith, is present. The couple rescued the year-old pit-bull and boxer mix who was found in Fresno from the SPCA.

“Well behaved dogs are allowed,” said Karraker, whose parents were national park rangers who moved the family to various park sites due to their changing job assignments.

Because MX3 Fitness utilizes a keyless entry system, staff do not be onsite at the Noe Valley gym. Members are texted a code to enter the front door just prior to their reservation time.

It allows for MX3 Fitness to keep its locations open even on holidays. The Noe Valley gym is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The space came with a second-floor area that the couple intend to seek approval from the city to use for fitness classes and seminars. Karraker, a San Francisco resident since 1995, is taking over an office space upstairs for his personal public relations firm Raptor Communications. Thus, he expects to be onsite upward of 30 hours a week, while Shope will largely be overseeing the other three MX3 Fitness locations in the Castro, Mission, and Lower Haight.

A former tech programmer who found little success with a startup company he launched in the early 2010s, Shope pivoted to the fitness industry and received certification as a personal trainer in order to make a living.

“I wanted something that would be a return to my athletic training college roots,” said Shope, who uses his programming skills for maintaining MX3’s website and other tech needs. “Now I do it just for myself and our little fitness company.”

He started out as a personal trainer at gyms in the Castro and South of Market before opening his first MX3 Fitness in the Lower Haight in 2016. Having dated since July 2013, Shope and Karraker married in 2017 and became co-owners in the business.
Another expansion is likely, said Shope.

“We definitely think of having a fifth location, but it is a few years out,” said Shope, who grew up in Minnesota and has called San Francisco home since 2006.

To learn more about either gym, visit their websites here and here.

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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