NAME: LYLE ROWDEN
Job: Owner, Far East Fitness Center at 813 South Belt West in Belleville (416-6599)
Outlook: "I want to see this whole fitness center come alive, again."
The "new" fitness center that Lyle Rowden opened last Wednesday is one that has been in his family for several years. His father, Walt Rowden, first built the building, which is modeled after a traditional Japanese dojo, about 25 years ago. It was where Walt honed his skill and love for karate. Lyle wants to bring business back and will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning at 11 a.m. He talked to business writer Will Buss about the re-dedication:
How long has your family been a part of the Belleville business community?
"My family has been in Belleville and the business community for many, many years. My grandfather started Home Brite (Ace Hardware) in 1941, and my father built this about 25 years ago as a fitness club. As the years went by, he decided to focus his efforts on karate and not so much fitness equipment and aerobics."
Why did you open a new fitness center there?
"My father passed away in October, and I found out in early November that I was responsible for his real estate as a trustee. The place was literally sitting here 80 percent vacant. It was just the karate class practicing in part of the building. I thought that I needed to bring this place back to life."
What can you find at Far East Fitness Center?
"We brought in all of the free weights and the ab machines and the leg presses and the Smith machines. I brought in cardio equipment, put in hi-def TVs and we have bikes. We will have aerobics, Zumba and spin classes. Yoga will actually work out of the karate room. We have separate stereo systems in the ceiling for each room."
How much space do you have?
"We have 7,500 square feet."
What other amenities will members have?
"We have a sauna, we have a hot tub, a cardio room and a gym with all of the free weights. We have several bathrooms and the dojo for the karate club. We also have showers and lockers."
Did you participate in karate like your father?
"No. I attended karate classes on four or five different occasions for about four to six months each, but I never stuck with it like he did."
What kind of karate did your father practice?
"It is Matsubayashi Shorinryu Karate. Not to be confused with judo or ti-kwon-do or any of these classes where they are throwing people across the floor or wrestling. It is a non-contact karate. It doesn't mean you won't practice throwing a punch or practice throwing a block. It's not sparing and it's not full contact."
What was your father's rank?
"He was only one of three who have reached an eighth-degree black belt in this style outside of Okinawa, Japan. And it took him 46 years to do it. They are actually going to posthumously promote him to ninth degree. Okinawa made it clear that they very much wanted this karate dojo to continue. It was a big deal to them, and they knew Walt personally for many years. It's pretty neat."
How long have you worked at the family hardware store?
"I started there in '76 and took over as owner in '86."
What do you want to achieve with this new business?
"I just want to grow with it. I want to see this whole fitness center come alive again. I want to see over 100 students attending karate classes. And obviously, we want to generate some revenue for the business as well. Mostly, I want to continue my father's legacy. That was the driving force."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.