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Members react with shock, sadness to gym closing

Lauren Magnuson
Members react with shock, sadness to gym closing
Brandy Cruthird, founder of Body by Brandy Fitness Center and Body by Brandy 4 Kidz in Roxbury. (Photo: courtesy of Brandy Cruthird)

    Gym members exercise at Body by Brandy Fitness Center, which is slated to close at the end of this month.

Saddened, shocked, upset. These are words that community members have used to describe their reaction to the closing of Roxbury’s Body by Brandy Fitness Center and Body by Brandy 4 Kidz, both owned by Founder Brandy Cruthird.

“It’s like a spouse leaving you,” said Harold Sealls, 54, a BBB member of eight years. “It’s an emotion I can’t describe. Brandy’s gym … is irreplaceable.”

The news came as a surprise to many in a late September announcement from Cruthird, a Dorchester native, who has operated the Body By Brandy Fitness Center since 1996 and non-profit Body By Brandy 4 Kidz since 2006 on Washington Street in Dudley Square. Both facilities are slated to close at the end of this month.

Unlike larger, corporate-owned fitness centers, BBB was a community gym with low turnover and many longtime members. BBB 4 Kidz even had a partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital that allowed doctors to write prescriptions for fitness and wellness training for obese children.

“When you visit other gyms, you realize what you have at Brandy’s is not normal, it’s the exception,” Sealls said. “The gym is like a church for the body … It’s a very nurturing environment. The connection with the people is so strong.”

Aalana Feaster, a five-year member of BBB, said that the “sense of family and community” that Cruthird developed is what made it stand out from other gyms. Feaster said that she owes much of her recent success in fitness and nutrition to conversations with Cruthird and her staff on the gym floor.

“She’s just very encouraging,” said Feaster, 34. “She would always sit and talk to her clients … she is always there, always available, always accessible.”

Feaster said she had been looking forward to bringing her 2-year-old son to BBB 4 Kidz when he got older.

“She’s definitely going to … be sorely missed, and it’s something that the community’s definitely going to feel,” Feaster said.

Cruthird said her decision to close the two facilities stemmed from a combination of factors, including the building’s lease being up for renewal. Cruthird said she is raising funds for a new non-profit facility to be named BBB 360 Community Health and Wellness.

“I wanted to create a better sustainability model, so it will not just be run by memberships, but run by grants, corporate giving and private donors,” Cruthird said.

BBB 360 would be a combination of a medical facility with a fitness center to provide “a whole mind, body and soul approach to wellness,” Cruthird said.

Cruthird’s motivation for BBB 360, she said, is “wanting to continue the services but to offer them at a greater level that can really bring change to the community.”

Cruthird said she has been surprised and overwhelmed by the BBB community’s emotional response over the news of the closing, adding that she sees herself just as an “everyday person.”

“I’m just doing what I love … I didn’t know that what I was doing was going to have such a great effect on people,” Cruthird said. “To know that you’ve impacted someone’s life like that is priceless.”

Sealls, who, like many of BBB’s members, has grown close to Cruthird over the years, echoed her sentiments.

“Brandy is so close to what she’s doing that she wasn’t able to see what was right there in front of her,” said Sealls. “She’s so busy operating that she can’t enjoy the fruits of her labor.”

Vanessa Wilson-Howard, a fitness instructor at BBB who has known Cruthird for 15 years, said the closing is bittersweet.

“To have … one of the heartbeats of that neighborhood remove itself out of there does leave a void,” she said. “[But] I know that Brandy is a shining star, so she will shine bright no matter where she goes. This is part of her journey and there’s still many miles of her journey yet to travel.”

Cruthird said that she will continue offering health and wellness outreach programs in the community in the interim, and that she has been filled with emotion by her clients’ reaction to the closing.

“It means a lot to me because I’ve worked really hard,” Cruthird said. “I’m just moved personally that it’s had an impact like that … and that it’s touched the community. I don’t think you can ask for anything more.”