Johnny Fallon demonstrates the gyro, a workout machine developed for astronauts, at Club Northwest in Grants Pass. Photo by Julia Moore - Julia Moore

One-stop fitness shop

It's no exaggeration when Scott Draper says members can spend an entire day at his Club Northwest in Grants Pass.

Touted as a one-stop shop for health and fitness, Club Northwest makes good on the claim with every turn through its veritable mall of wellness options. It's all the product of Draper's 14-year effort to provide members with an "uncommonly good experience."

Uncommon it is. Exercise equipment and classes, as well as the gymnasium and swimming pool, loom large in the 60,000-square-foot facility.

But the club also boasts an art gallery, a book store, juice bar, coffee and "pro" gear shops, full-service spa and salon using all-natural beauty products, steam rooms, saunas, children's gym and activity area, three championship racquetball courts and outdoor courts for basketball, tennis and sand volleyball.

A retail space selling dietary supplements is slated to open in 2011. And there's still enough room on the five-acre Northwest Vine Street property, says Draper, to add what he envisions as a complementary medical center.

"We're much more rounded in how we see wellness," says Draper, explaining that the end result of fitness is "look at me" while wellness has "no end."

There's been no end to Draper's business trajectory since he purchased Parkway Athletic Club in 1991 in downtown Grants Pass. Within five years, Draper had signed more than 2,000 members and expanded to a second downtown location that featured a kids' gym.

"I wanted to stick with something," says Draper of Parkway Athletic. "It was everything I had, which wasn't much."

Eight partners joined Draper in 1996 and initially invested $500,000 to transform the former Duro-Last roofing materials plant near Interstate 5 into the new home of Club Northwest. It opened with just gym essentials in February 1997 and, over three years, added sports courts, the "KidZone" and aquatic center.

Membership peaked at 7,000 in 2006. Three years ago, The Spa at Club Northwest was constructed and the aquatic center remodeled to the tune of about $1 million, says Draper.

The spa's advent roughly coincided with Draper's foray into the world of franchises. Opening Healthy Inspirations weight-loss centers in Grants Pass and Medford in 2005 and 2006, Draper's company acquired the brand in 2008 and discontinued it in favor of a new model, dubbed The New Well. Headquartering the concept at Club Northwest, Draper opened four more New Well centers in short order and plans to construct others in Arizona, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas and Hawaii.

"The New Well is based on a mega need and a mega trend," says Draper, citing the numbers of overweight and obese Americans.

Still Draper, 49, insists that Club Northwest — not easily adapted to a franchise model — doesn't exist for weight loss or even achieving a measure of fitness. His goal has always been to build self-esteem in both children and adults through physical activity.

"The focus of the whole club is to take the intimidation out," says Draper.

"There's so much emotion attached to fitness," he adds. "So many weird things come up."

Never a "star athlete," Draper recalls bringing up the rear in a line of first-grade runners at Grants Pass' Highland Elementary School. Years later, he found his niche in tennis and played through high school, persisting in bad weather and for want of partners. He earned a tennis scholarship to Idaho State University and after school worked as a tennis pro in clubs around the country before moving back to Grants Pass and buying Parkway Athletic.

"I didn't know what I was doing, and that was a huge advantage to me," says Draper. "We created a market by providing fitness for real people."

Draper hesitates to take all the credit for Club Northwest's format but admits it's an amalgamation of all the best ideas he's encountered and could implement. One example, he says, is the GyroGym. The revolving system of interconnected circular bars was developed in the 1960s by NASA to train astronauts but is better known today for delivering the "best core workout," says Draper. When he saw it at a trade show, Draper decided it belonged at Club Northwest, the only fitness club he knows of that has one.

For members, the staff and Club Northwest's standards of operation are more unique.

"These employees go around talking to the members," says 65-year-old Toni Richardson, a member for two years. "I've never been to a gym where they do that."

A longtime fitness-club member, mainly in Eugene, Richardson says she was skeptical of options in Grants Pass and assumed she'd have to travel from her Applegate home to Medford for workouts. Club Northwest offered the mix of yoga classes, cardio equipment, weights and facilities for swimming and playing tennis that she was looking for.

Yoga also brought 62-year-old Wilderville resident Jim Whitsitt to Club Northwest. Although monthly dues are not inexpensive — between $57 and $65 per person — Club Northwest's senior discount kicks in for adults 60 and older. Most other fitness clubs set the age at 65, he says.

An additional perk, says Whitsitt, is the social ambiance at Club Northwest, which encourages conversation and relaxation in its juice bar and lounge area. Whitsitt says he'll spend an hour some days just chatting with other members.

"We all share ideas about food and exercise," he says. "The big thing is you get to meet people."

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