RIVER NORTH — David Barton Gyms — the trendy health club that's counted Anderson Cooper and Daniel Craig as guests in New York — has closed its River North gym, leaving members scrambling for refunds.
The chain on Wednesday abruptly shuttered its gym at 600 W. Chicago Ave. as part of a widespread closure affecting clubs in New York, Miami and elsewhere. In a statement, the company said that "severe competitive pressures" made it "impossible" for clubs like the one in River North to remain open.
"DavidBartonGym greatly appreciates the past patronage of its clients and support of its staff and training professionals," Rivian Bell, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement.
But the kind words aren't comforting to gym members now wondering how they retrieve the membership fees they paid the gym in advance.
"Last week they were trying to get people to renew for another year," said Kyle Bicking, who paid about $100 a month for his membership.
The gym was a big presence at 600 W. Chicago Ave., a riverfront office building that also counts Groupon as a tenant. The 30,000-square-foot gym had plenty of equipment and trainers, but prided itself on trendy decor reminiscent of a nightclub Barton called "a landscape for the senses."
"We want you to forget the outside world while you are here," the company says on its website. "What has never been duplicated is (our) experience, the rare alchemy that occurs when we fuse the pulse of a neighborhood gym with the soul of the local culture."
Bell said the gyms are still determining how they will dole out refunds, but advised customers to "initiate a process with their credit card companies." No cards in Chicago were charged between Dec. 15 and Tuesday, she said.
So how does that work?
Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, said it might be best for customers "to wait a couple of weeks" to see if the company offers refunds, because it is obligated to do so.
Contract law varies state by state, so reading the terms of their contracts is the "first thing" customers should do, she said. Recurring monthly payments should be canceled immediately with credit card companies, and customers who prepaid for future months "may be eligible for a partial refund" from their credit card company, Hutt said.
"It may be worth processing a refund claim through their credit card company, but the issuing bank is not obligated to provide a refund," she said in an e-mail. "As is always the case when complaining or asking for assistance, they should try to stay calm and be polite. They are more likely to get a successful resolution."
The shuttered David Barton gyms are owned by New York-based Club Ventures LLC, which court records show filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011 but emerged out of bankruptcy in 2013.
It's possible the gym chain is stalling on filing for bankruptcy again as it hopes for a buyer. If a buyer does emerge, it's possible it will honor members' existing contracts. Competing gyms might recruit former David Barton members by offering to honor what's left of their contracts.
Which is good news for people like Bicking.
"I'm not really out a lot of money," he said. "But anyone who signed in the middle of the year, they're probably out half a year's worth of dues."
A spokeswoman for Equity Commonwealth, which owns the office building at 600 W. Chicago, did not return a message seeking comment.
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