When Mary Kate Doyle and Laura Keever were scouting possible locations for the third WIP Fitness operation, they looked in Glastonbury, they looked in Rocky Hill, they looked in Wethersfield. But it wasn’t until a lunch at Max Downtown after another fruitless search that an idea clicked.
What about Pratt Street?
“Obviously downtown Hartford was sort of off where most people would expect our course to be,” Doyle said. “I just thought – ‘I could use a different challenge, a different demographic.’”
Although downtown Hartford may seem like an unusual choice given the gym’s two suburban locations, it has been well-received by those downtown. Even the gym’s name — WIP stands for “work in progress” — seems to fit with a downtown area that is undergoing a nascent transformation into a hub of activity. But if there were any questions as to whether people are living and spending time downtown, this location answered them.
“We got a lot of reactions when we started telling people we were going downtown. The people that know Hartford were like, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing,’ and the people who haven’t been here in the last couple years were like, ‘What the hell are you thinking?’” Doyle said. “The biggest surprise and exciting thing is how many residents we have working out here.”
WIP Fitness, which was founded by Doyle and Keever in 2013 with the opening of its West Hartford location on New Park Avenue, is not like your typical gym. Rather than offering an a la carte setup of treadmills, free weights and machines, WIP offers only group classes. The 50-minute workouts focus largely on functional training, movements that help you in your day-to-day life. But that’s not the only goal, Keever says. The group classes also serve as a way to build a community.
“A lot of the people that we’ve met that have recently moved to Hartford or relocated to Hartford, they’re looking to fit in. So what we provide here too is, obviously a great workout, but you build this sense of community,” Keever said. “That’s what happens with a group fitness class.”
The new location has also sparked a shift in how Doyle and Keever advertise their business. Previously, they may have turned to Facebook to reach out to potential customers. Now? Events at the Spectra Apartments or 777 Main St. have brought in loyal, and local, clientele.
Downtown resident Danielle Van Katwyk was a regular WIP client even before they opened downtown, but that required a drive out of the city, into West Hartford and back. It’s a lot different now.
“Before I was either living in West Hartford and driving downtown [for work] or when I was living in downtown I had to drive to West Hartford and go to the gym,” she said. “Now I can just wake up, go to work, eat lunch, come to the gym and then go home.
“Now I’ll go a full week – if not more – without having to start my car.”
Owning a location downtown has also brought Doyle and Keever closer to the business community in Hartford, especially since they share the goal of cultivating a more robust downtown environment.
“We want to not just come in and own a business and hopefully do well, we’re invested in the city, and seeing other businesses flourish,” Keever said.
This mutual goal has led to WIP partnering with many other businesses. Even at its grand opening event in September, local businesses pitched in to help with food and Mayor Luke Bronin came for the ribbon-cutting.
“We all want feet on the street, right?” Doyle said. “That’s the common goal.”