Boutique Urban Gym opens in historic Downtown building
When you see the rows of treadmills and gym equipment in the window of the historic Sperry Flour building on North 3rd Street, do not mistake what you are seeing for run-of-the-mill heath club. Indeed, there are people on stair climbers and squatting with barbells as in a traditional “big box” fitness center, but that is where the similarities end. Described by its founders as a “boutique urban gym,” West Coast Aesthetics or WESTCA embodies a feeling of community and a personalized touch that’s hard to replicate, with a vibe that is authentic, local, and even communal.
For founders Tory Woodward and his partner Meaghan Karabatsos, WESTCA represents a longtime dream. the culmination of several years’ worth of work spent developing a business plan, securing funding, and finding the right site. “We’re hometown people and didn’t want to venture from our roots,” Woodward said. “We were committed to finding a place that was accessible to our existing clients that also had room to grow, and were very fortunate to find this space.”
Woodward, a former basketball player at UC Santa Barbara and Mr. Olympia competitor, started his fitness career in a less conventional way while working in the sales office of a local tech company. “I was training some of my co-workers at lunch time just for the experience. Then a friend who had moved to Newport Beach to work as a trainer called me and told me that I could double my income in six months if I came down and learned from him.”
Woodward left his tech job to start working as a trainer at Ray’s Built Tuff gym in West San Jose. “I was really drawn to the model at Ray’s. Trainers pay a flat monthly rate to use the facility and could work the schedule that they wanted, and keep what they billed to their clients. The experience taught me the importance of building your personal brand.” Around this time, Woodward began competing in US National Physique Committee competitions, and after doubling down on his training he took second at a national competition in Atlanta in 2012, allowing him to turn pro. Woodward’s success in competition corresponded to successes in his personal brand, and where he developed an Instagram following of more than 140,000 people and began taking on sponsorships.
The success in competitions also translated into success in his training business at Ray’s, where he was beginning to have more clients than he could manage. “It was a great setup but we got to a point where we were filling up the gym with too many of our clients.”
Ray’s gym is also where Woodward would meet his partner Karabatsos. Having started initially as a member of Ray’s gym before becoming a trainer, Karabatsos—herself a former tech worker—decided that she too wanted to be part of the fitness business, and in 2015 joined with Woodward to launch WESTCA. “The most difficult part of the process was finding a site that works,” says Karabatsos. “I had to learn about zoning, parking requirements, and all that fun stuff.”
When an agent recommended that they consider the historic Sperry building in Downtown, Karabatsos was initially apprehensive. “When we visited the site, there was a tattoo parlor, an art studio, and a barber shop, and everything was walled off.” After mulling over the site and discussing it with trusted advisors, a vision began to emerge. “The building had good bones, easy access, and great proximity. We were excited about all the Downtown development activity and the revitalization of St. James Park.”
Like Ray’s, trainers at WESTCA pay a flat rate to have access to the facility and can bring their clients and set their own schedule. Unlike other gyms, which seek to make profit off training packages, members are not pressured to buy chunks of training, and the membership rate is comparable to many big box gyms. “We want WESTCA to be open and accessible for everyone,” says Woodward. “Whether you are competing in bodybuilding competitions or you’re a Downtown worker who just wants a friendly and easy place to get in a quick workout, there is a home for you here.”
WESTCA’s facility is a fitting and adaptive reuse of a historic landmark that adds street life and activity in off hours, and adds to the list of amenities catering to Downtown’s growing base of residents and workforce. Their business is indicative of both the transformation of Downtown and the metamorphosis of fitness industry from big box to personalized service. Amenity-seeking professionals are increasingly attracted to places like Downtown San Jose as a place to live, work, play, and of course, get in a good work out.