Sunday, February 28, 2010

Five Points Fitness in Corte Madera: The Reason I May Never Get Another Gym Membership...

I woke up this morning, bright and early, thinking about fitness. Today is the start of Week 21 of pregnancy #2 and, probably due to all the energy I've had lately, I've started to think about getting back into shape post baby. For a lot of people, that would probably involve getting a gym membership. I'll have to be a little more creative. You see, after our last gym-experience I'm a little gun shy of signing on the dotted line for a membership at any gym.

It wasn't always like this. I begged and pleaded for a gym membership when I was sixteen so that I could swim laps to get ready for lifeguard training the next year during the long winter months. My best friend and I even managed to get up at 4:30 in the morning to drive ten miles to the closest gym, in my rusty 1973 Volkswagen Beetle that more often than not had to be roll started even on not so cold mornings, to work out before school.

I got a membership at 24 hour fitness during college, during one of their twenty something dollar a month promotions, and was spending an insane amount of time working out back when I was playing rugby.

I even got a membership at the Sports Science Institute when I was going to school in Cape Town, South Africa, although it involved walking about six miles to get there, which in itself was a pretty good workout.

Working out at a gym was a big part of my life. So when I met Paul it seemed natural that we would work out together. He'd worked as a personal trainer for a few years and had a membership at a gym in Corte Madera. As a surprise after we'd been dating for a few months he got me a membership too and we started going together most days after work. Then I got a job working at another local gym, and my boss gave Paul a free membership too.

Canceling our membership at our old gym was a relief by that point. It had been a great gym when I'd started going, but midway through new owners had taken over and the gym had been transformed. Originally it had been the type of gym where people went to work out. One day it was reorganized (and sold) and became Five Points Fitness.

Now it looked more like a daycare center, where harried trainers were saddled with groups of ten kids under the age of twelve and instructed to teach them free weights. Watching from an exercise bike on the second floor was almost painful. A free weight hit the floor every fifteen seconds and it usually wasn't an accident. It looked like a painful lawsuit waiting to happen.

We got engaged and moved out of the city. We got married. A year after we got married we found out that we were expecting a baby. Sadie was born and I can honestly say that I hadn't thought of Five Points Fitness in quite some time....

... Until we got a phone call from Paul's mom saying that a collection agency was calling her demanding to speak with him and saying that they were going to destroy his credit and his life.

This was a major concerned. I'm more than a little obsessed with credit. I make budgets. I don't have late payments. And I'd never heard from a collection agency before.

Paul got there number and called back. It turned out that Five Points Fitness had turned our names over them to collect something like fifty dollars. On top of that was the collection agencies fee, which meant we now owed something like two hundred dollars.

I was shocked. I'd stood next to Paul when we'd cancelled our membership. We even knew the guy who'd done the paperwork: Rory. After listening to the threats of the cussing collection agent Paul called Five Points Fitness. We were very naive. We thought that since we really hadn't done anything wrong, we wouldn't have to pay. It was all one big mistake.

After about twenty calls Paul was finally put through to the owner, by an innocent desk person who hadn't yet been told that he absolutely wasn't taking our calls. He and Paul talked. And argued. They demanded that we show the receipt that proved that we'd stopped our membership. The claim was that we'd never cancelled it and so they'd kept trying to bill us. I remembered Rory handing me a receipt... Three years earlier.

Now I don't know about you, but after three years I don't know where most of my receipts are. I keep pay stubs. I keep important warranties. But during a big move it would never have occurred to me that I would ever need the receipt that said I'd cancelled my gym membership, ever again. Paul told the owner that Rory had handled the cancellation. The owner explained that he didn't work there anymore.

Here's the part that really bothers me: after a long argument the owner of Five Points Fitness finally admitted that it was fully possible that they'd made a mistake and that we didn't owe anything at all... he followed that statement by saying that he needed to cover his own costs since it had gone to a collection agency, so that we at least needed to pay. He wouldn't budge.

We ended up paying two hundred dollars to the collection agency after talks between Paul and the less than honest owner broke down.

So that's why when I think of getting back into shape, I'm a bit leery about getting a gym membership. I know there are plenty of gyms out there and not everybody has such horrible business practices (and horrible business ethics) but after this experience signing any sort of agreement would make me feel a little vulnerable. I guess my plan will include lots of walking and chasing Sadie around outside in the garden.

If you've stumbled across this site because you're think about getting a membership at Five Points Fitness in Corte Madera, you're one step ahead of where we were: at least you've been warned. And if you do get a membership you know now to keep your receipts. Forever.

Today's pictures are from those early days when we still had gym memberships :)


  1. I don't know if you have a YMCA in your area, at least in mine they don't have contracts.

  2. Oh dear! That is ridiculous that you had to pay! Wow..

    I agree with Kathreja, I belong to our Y and it's great. But I know not living in a big city kind of limits what you have available. I love the Y because there are free classes for members, which is why I take Zumba and love it :D

    Steve belongs to a LA Fitness, and he's had good experiences there, I'm not sure about contracts though. But he's real leary of signing much of anything so hopefully they don't have something ridiculous like your experience!

  3. Either you're a wee, tiny little chick, or he is some kinda mega-hunk!

  4. I've been to a gym once and hated it! It smelled sweaty and goodness knows who'd sweated onto the gym equipment before you got to it...yuck! The only way I'd ever consider a membership is for a pool pass.

    You've got the great outdoors and an active toddler to chase around, so you're probably getting a free workout every day without even thinking about it!

    Have you thought of making the park your gym? You can do chin ups on the monkey bars, do some laps of the playground or a sports oval, etc.

  5. Hi Allison and Kathreja-

    The YMCA is a great idea! Paul had a scholarship for the closest one to us when he was working in the city and went all the time (he actually used to work at one too). I wouldn't think twice about getting a membership there because I'm sure they wouldn't do money making scams like that! They're really great. And I love all the children's activities and sports most of them have! Our closest one is an hour and a half away right now... but I'll have to remember to see if there's one nearby next time we move!

    Hi Cliff-
    I'm 5'5", so not too teeny! Which means... he's a giant!

    Hi Helen-
    That does sound yucky! Most of the gyms I worked out at had paper towels all over the place with disintectant spray so you could wash them down before you used them (and hopefully after too!) but if they didn't have that it would be pretty gross!

    The only thing I wish I had was some kind of exercise bike or eliptical trainer for rainy days (and super hot days!). I loved those at the gym! But you're right, it's great to be outside and following Sadie around is such a workout!

  6. This is a bit late since you already paid, but the practices you described when talking to the collection agent were illegal. Collection agencies are not allowed to tell a 3rd party why they need to contact you. They and their agents are not allowed to threaten your credit or use threatening language when talking to you. To be honest, collection agencies have a huge number of restrictions on them with regard to what they can and can not do.
    If you, or anyone you know, ever deals with a collection agency again make sure you record the conversation. If the individual violates the law while trying to get you to pay, the agency forfeits all.
    The laws are documented under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act which you can see an FAQ at


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