Nineteen years ago, Fran Philip arrived in the U.S. from Australia with her husband and an L-2 visa, which meant she wasn't authorized to work in the country.
Unable to continue the high-tech career she'd pursued in Australia, she volunteered as a fitness teacher at the YMCA, offering instruction in group fitness, personal training and pilates.
She found teaching fitness and wellness satisfying, and after receiving a green card, started Menlo Pilates and Yoga 11 years ago. She ran a studio for five years on Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park before moving to the studio's current location at 1011 El Camino Real.
In three months, the studio will close, due to competition from an increasing number of boutique and corporate fitness studios in town, and a reasonable but unaffordable rent increase, Ms. Philip said.
The studio will continue to operate until Dec. 30, said Ms. Philip, who urged customers to continue to use the facility and their existing class passes.
Though the studio will close, Ms. Philip says she isn't going anywhere. She's confirmed she will teach group classes in Menlo Park at Poised (805 El Camino Real) and Little House (800 Middle Ave.), and will continue to teach private lessons at the studio's annex location at 959 El Camino Real in Menlo Park.
In Menlo Park, there are at least 13 fitness studios, gyms or personal training services: Axis, Barre 3, Bulldog Fitness, Poised, SBM Fitness, Core Body Connections, Elementus, Alkalign Studios, Studio Rincon, Jazzercise, Weight Watchers, Nuffer Fitness, WellFit AJ, to name the bulk of them, not to mention the city's recreation center, which offers similar classes, and many more nearby fitness studios in Palo Alto and Redwood City. That's more exercise spots than locations to purchase groceries in Menlo Park.
"There's another studio less than 50 feet from my studio," Ms. Philip said, referring to Barre3, which opened in February.
She said she brought her concerns about the proximity of the new studio to Menlo Park city staff, but to no avail.
" I've tried my hardest to keep class prices fair for our clients and wages above average for my staff, but the current business model is simply not viable longterm," she told her clients in an email. "With studios popping up seemingly on every corner, the competition is fierce and local commercial real estate rents are among the highest in the country."
Upon reflection, she says, maybe one pitfall of her studio has been that she hasn't chased the fitness trend du jour, offering fitness boot camps one week, and Orange Theory, barre classes, or hot pilates the next.
Other studios tend to emphasize taxing cardiovascular programs for 20- and 30-somethings, she said, like intensive spinning or "boot camp" style programs.
However, she said, "that's not what the mission here is." Her mission, she says, is "to be able to be well and focus on your health and feel good when you walk out."
One man, who is retired, comes to the studio daily, she said. He recently reported to her that he had grown an inch since his last physical, due to improved spine health from his exercise there.
The studio also has clients who are mothers and daughters, and couples who come in to exercise together. It has been a spot for people new to the area to make friends.
Over the years, the studio has earned a reputation as a place where not only the lean and the young can feel comfortable exercising, she said, describing the studio's vibe as one of "no judgment."
"You don't have to look good. You don't have to wear the latest outfits," she said.
Not all of her clients can just hop into taking classes at another fitness center, she said, and they may lose out on a place to exercise confidently.
"That's the part that makes me really sad," she said.
Since January, she said, the studio has had 17,000 people walk through its doors.
"We've touched a lot of people's lives," she said.