By Joe Lyman
Hailee Bland-Walsh, owner and founder of City Gym on Wornall Road in Kansas City, Mo., is celebrating the gym’s four-year anniversary in August.
“We’ve been blessed,” she said. “We’re very lucky. We’ve got over a thousand members, a very vibrant programming, lots of personal training, 45 group exercise classes on a weekly basis — we are a full-service gym.”
Already, City Gym has expanded from its original 5,000 square feet. After acquiring adjacent space in January 2014, it’s now an 11,600-square-foot facility.
“One of the things we like to talk about,” says Bland-Walsh, “is that while we have all the amenities you might find in a corporate facility … we have the feel of a locally owned business.”
Bland-Walsh’s approach as a gym owner has been to focus on attributes that aren’t typically associated with the gym industry, such as aesthetics, cleanliness and customer service. The motto of her business is: Be fit. Be well. Belong.
“And ‘belong’ is something we really focus on,” she said. “Community — and creating a place for everyone to feel like they’re a part of something — is one of our core values.”
Originally from Kansas City, Bland-Walsh grew up as an athlete. She played soccer, both in college and professionally. In her post-athletic career, while living in San Francisco in 2004, she felt it made sense to continue with her love of fitness. She worked for several years as a personal trainer and fitness instructor and worked her way up to the management side of a large YMCA. Then she decided to make a move back to the Midwest to pursue her goal of gym ownership.
“I just got to a place in my career that I was ready to take on more,” she said, “and I was feeling that Kansas City was really ready for some of the concepts that I was bringing from the West Coast.”
Bland-Walsh has supported the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce from its beginning in 2012. She has been an active member for six months.
“It’s been great to connect with those people who are both members and/or advocates and allies with the Chamber. Quite a few of the members are City Gym members, so there’s been a lot of reciprocity,” she said.
Bland-Walsh recognizes the benefits of the Chamber in cultivating her innovative business model and the added value of owning a business in Kansas City, with its big-town-small-town feel and its recognition of innovation.
“There’s something really exciting that’s growing and developing in Kansas City. So I think, honestly, with the recent positive press — it’s just a testament to all the cool stuff that’s been happening in Kansas City in the last five years or so.”
Bland-Walsh resides in Mission Hills, Kansas, with her wife-to-be, Tiffany Spriggs. The two enjoy traveling, bicycling, running, drinking wine, and entertaining family and friends.
Bland-Walsh also considers herself very much a community activist.
“In 2004, when I moved to San Francisco, I cut my teeth in activism in a place where community activism is the norm,” she said. “I was lucky to grow up as an adult in a place where being inclusive is the norm, so when I moved back to Kansas City that was already a part of the fabric of who I was.”
Bland-Walsh said her West Coast friends expressed concern when she told them that she’d be returning to the Midwest. They worried that she’d face discrimination.
“I never anticipated that that would be a problem, and I can say wholeheartedly that it has not been a problem,” she said. “One of the ways I have lived my activism is that I am who I am. I never hide anything, but honestly, I have never received any negative feedback.”
Bland-Walsh and Spriggs will be getting married on New Year’s Eve 2015. In June, their hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on marriage equality before their ceremony were fulfilled.
“With the timing of the ruling,” says Bland-Walsh, “it’s been absolutely perfect and serendipitous.”
Photo Credit: Landon Vonderschmidt