Many health clubs require members pay up front for long-term contracts. Members of a Cary fitness franchise are finding out why doing that can be very risky.
Weights, steps and a lot of empty space is all that is left inside Ladies Fitness and Wellness Center in Cary. Outside, a sign states the center is "Temporarily Closed."
"I feel a little bit betrayed," said customer Lynette Garner.
Garner joined the gym in August. She paid owner Jillian Smith $548 for an 18-month membership. Less than two weeks later, Garner said she went to work out and found the club was closed.
Garner said Smith had an explanation.
"She said 'We've got some things we've got to fix and then we'll be back to business." So I said 'You are going to reopen?' and she said 'Oh yeah,'" Garner said.
The landlord said the fitness center will not reopen because Smith did not pay the rent.
"She just took my money. I mean, you know, I get furious now when I think about it," Garner said.
Garner and at least 10 other women called Five on Your Side. Between them, they paid Smith thousands of dollars. Some, like Garner, paid weeks before the gym closed.
North Carolina law requires health clubs that sell pre-paid memberships be bonded. That way, members are protected if the club goes out of business.
When Ladies Fitness opened, Smith said she would just have members pay on a monthly basis, which exempted her from the law.
Some members told Five On Your Side they paid Smith as much as two years in advance.
"We have issued a subpoena for the owner to provide records," said David Elliott, an attorney with the North Carolina Department of Justice.
Elliott said his office has 30 complaints against Ladies Fitness in Cary, which has filed bankruptcy.Elliott is now working with Smith's attorney.
"She was, in fact, taking pre-paid contracts, and the law requires that she have a bond or letter of credit in place. She didn't have that, so we need to speak with her so we can try to make arrangements to return money to the consumers," Elliott said.
In the meantime, Garner and the others are left with gym contracts that are not worth the paper they are printed on.
"She deceived me. What hurts is I feel like she betrayed us -- all of us," Garner said.
Garner paid by credit card and is disputing those charges; anyone else who paid that way is advised to do the same.
Ladies Fitness in Fuquay-Varina will honor the Cary memberships, even though it has different owners.
Elliott said his office is compiling a list of members who pre-paid. Customer can call (919) 716-6000.
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