Moving a gym a weighty matter |

Moving a gym a weighty matter

Charles Agar
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN If Aspen feels a little lopsided this morning, it’s not because of the influx of seasonal tourists; it’s because 40 weightlifters moved 20,000 pounds of steel across town.

Bleeker Street Gym moved from its temporary basement location on Hopkins Ave. to their new home in the recently completed Obermeyer Place adjacent to Aspen’s Rio Grande Park.”I don’t plan on leaving,” said owner Joe Vernier after this third move in the gym’s 13-year history. He hopes his members will “keep on pumping” at the new site for years to come.And judging from the volunteer turnout for Saturday’s move, Aspen’s weightlifting community is thriving. The muscly crew, in sweats, muscle shirts and headbands, was all smiles as they lugged steel weights and bulky exercise machines up the steps from their short-lived basement rental. And that atmosphere of community service and friendly competition accomplished more than just muscle toning.”There’s good camaraderie here,” said Jim Fifield while busy arranging dumbbells and bodybuilding trophies in the new building. “We all pulled together and it was a good workout.”

“My forearms are spent,” said one volunteer with a strained grin as he staggered up the steps with 45-pound dumbbells in each hand. Volunteers dragged heavy chains or carried steel plates under each arm to load and unload a U-Haul and a ragtag collection of smaller flatbed trailers.”I hope one of these tires doesn’t pop,” one lifter joked as he loaded a truck with just one more plate.Joe’s wife, Julie Vernier, said there were more volunteers than they expected and without that help the move would have been more than the humble gym could afford.Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Joe and Julie Vernier came to Aspen more than 13 years ago. And like so many first-time Aspenites, they first worked odd jobs, including as trainers at local health clubs.

But Joe was used to what he called “real gyms” back in the “Motor City” and became frustrated with Aspen’s handful of fancy health clubs. He was looking for a simple gym for serious weightlifting. “One day I decided to do it myself,” he said.Vernier rented space from Aspenite Bill Murphy in an old building that had once housed printer’s shop, and Bleeker Street Gym was born near present-day Obermeyer Place. Not long after, their son Joe was born – their second son Andy is 9 – and Joe and Julie made Aspen home.”It’s no frills,” Julie said, and that’s what she loves about the community gym. There is no sauna, or Jacuzzi – just a weight room and locker area. A “gym-gym” she called it, the kind of place that attracts community spirit. And with day-use fees at just $15 and annual dues at less than $600, you can easily see why.”It’s the only place you can go in this town without wearing Lycra,” said Fred Davies. An Aspenite since 1973, he remembers the town before deep class distinctions, and said the Bleeker Street Gym is one of the few level playing fields left.

“Bleeker Street is kind of an institution. It’s the last true blue collar gym in town,” said Pete Holman, one of a handful of personal trainers who use the gym as home base for work with clients. While there are lots of health clubs in Aspen that are all about style, Bleeker Street is the kind of place where construction workers spot real estate bigwigs. “Everyone in the gym is on an equal plain.” “It’s a no frills gym,” Holman said. And Vernier’s focus is health and fitness – he does not cater to the affluent, which “makes the place very special,” Holman added.Karen Stoller was an Olympic weightlifter and is a senior-level Olympic trainer. “He has the most serious athletes here,” she said of Vernier. Stoller likes that there are no plasma TV’s, just good weight gear and a strong community spirit.There is an air of authority and respect around the very focused Vernier. Saturday saw him flying from one task to another, consulting with members about how to arrange things, making sure the dumbbells were in the right order, that heavy machines were placed just right.

“I need help with this shoulder machine,” Vernier said out in front of the new building, and in a minute three hulking guys whisked the machine into the building.But Tim Boyle’s 200 pound dumbbells move for no normal man. A Newcastle, England native, only he or his lifting partner, Dave White from South Africa, are able to manhandle the bulky weights, he said (the 280-pound Boyle can bench press 520 pounds).Boyle called Saturday’s move easy, especially when compared with the rainy day 2004 move from the original site to the Hopkins location, when fewer volunteers showed up and Boyle was “like a human donkey,” he said.But Vernier had plenty of help Saturday.

“It’s a local gym moved by locals,” said Pat Newkam, who was present for all three moves. They’ve kept a cornerstone from the original building, and he’s pleased they’re back near the original spot.The new space at Obermeyer is Spartan and spacious at 2,400 square feet. The exposed ceiling is a labyrinth of pipes and conduit. One wall is all windows, another is a bank of mirrors beneath a shelf heavy with body-building trophies.The more than 150 members of Bleeker Street range from Vernier’s 13-year-old son Joe, who likes to work out in the summers when he’s not busy playing sports, to a 60-year-old Palmer Hood who loves the gym because it’s full of “real people.”Vernier has competed in a number of body-building competitions, and he promises the walls of the new space will soon be covered with photos of past champions who trained at Bleeker Street.

“But that’s not what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s about people challenging themselves and enjoying it.”The gang of movers posed for a group photo before enjoying a lunch from the Hickory House and the Big Wrap.The Bleeker Street Gym will be open Monday morning for business.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is

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