RIVER NORTH — The mirrors are on the walls, and the padding is on the floor: River North's first Pure Barre is getting ready for its grand opening Sunday.
Three years ago, Emily Henson was working in medical sales and Shelbye Ortale was working in design, both in Nashville. Each signed up for Pure Barre classes at the same Tennessee studio, and almost immediately "our passion for Pure Barre kind of took over our lives," Ortale said.
"It immediately becomes your one thing out of the day where you're just like, I can't wait to go," said Ortale, who shuttles to Chicago from Nashville weekly to join partner Henson, who moved to River North full-time to help run their studio at 1 E. Huron St. above Blowtique.
Both are certified Pure Barre instructors, and they've hired five more teachers to staff "as many classes as our clients are interested in taking," Henson said. Class sizes are 20 to 22 students per session, and they'll open with 38 classes per week on their roster.
The pair hopes to open a second location in a neighborhood with similar demographics, like Streeterville or the West Loop, Ortale said. Their typical customer is a fitness-conscious working woman in her late 20s or older — though they hope to see men in their classes, too.
"Pure Barre is such a unique workout," Henson said. "We've seen men who are in shape — but are used to running, lifting weights and doing cardio — wondering why their muscles are shaking halfway through a class, when they feel like they're barely moving."
Ortale said most Pure Barre franchisees open studios solo, but her partnership with Henson makes them an unstoppable team.
"We're a good balance. [Henson] has all the training in teaching, I'm handling things like city permits, and my husband has an MBA and has been helping with a ton of business stuff," she said. "We've just got a really good balance, because we have different strengths we bring to the table."
The pair hope to partner with health-conscious brands in Chicago like Protein Bar for specials and events, but aside from their fitness classes and expanding their business, they're both most excited about their merchandising. The duo hand-selected clothing and accessories from fitness brands like Lole, Splits59, and Pure Barre's own line, which they'll sell in-studio.
"If our clients are anything like us, they'll get hooked and then want everything that says Pure Barre on it," Henson said.