(The Chronicle-Independent celebrates Black History Month in February with a series of stories on area businesses owned and operated by African-Americans, starting with Fitness Zone in Lugoff and owner George Gibson.)
To operate a successful business for nearly 15 years is what many would say is a notable accomplishment, especially when the service the business provides is not considered an absolute necessity in most circles. George Gibson has owned and operated Fitness Zone, 814 Hwy. 1 South, Lugoff, for nearly 15 years. He settled in Kershaw County after retiring from the U.S. Navy with the rank of captain in 1996.
“I’ve always worked out, since I was 17 years old,” Gibson said. “When I came here, I bought the Sears franchise and manned it for about 10 years. For part of that time, I ran both the Sears store and Fitness Zone.”
Gibson sold the Sears franchise several years ago to focus his full time and attention on Fitness Zone. He said gym-quality equipment adds up to a substantial investment.
“When I first went into business, we had to actually borrow the money,” Gibson said. “Over time, we’ve gotten to the place where if something breaks we can pay cash for it. We have enough money saved up in a fund.”
Along with resistance exercise machines, cardio equipment and free weights, Fitness Zone also offers a variety of group classes including Zumba, Pilates, spinning classes on stationary bikes and popular “Silver Sneakers” classes designed for more mature clients.
“Those classes all fill up for just about every class,” Gibson said.
Fitness Zone employs 15 full- and part-time workers. The facility also offers supervised child care services for young children so parents can work out without worry.
“I’ve always felt that it was important for us to provide a safe environment for parents to bring their children while they’re working out in the gym. We established child care about 12 years ago. We have it staffed with mature ladies in the morning and evening. Mothers just love it,” Gibson said. “Often, we’ll have a child that’s crying when their mothers take them home because they enjoy it so much. It happens a lot.”
Gibson said Fitness Zone also has a separate room for unsupervised older children, ages 10 and up, where they can do homework, watch TV and enjoy other activities while their parents exercise.
“People look at that and say ‘you don’t make any money on that.’ Well, no, we don’t, but in the long run it’s a good service to our members,” Gibson said.
Fitness Zone member Bob Gulledge said the facility is the best gym he has seen.
“I’ve been a member of a lot of gyms, probably five or six in North Carolina, Virginia and here and this is the best one,” Gulledge said. “George is a great owner and a really good guy. There’s lots of nice people here.”
Gibson sponsors the annual “Jingle Bell Run” 5K race held every December to benefit the Kershaw County School District.
“Every first Saturday in December at 8 o’clock we have around 300 runners, in the cold, no matter what the weather is -- we go out and run this 5K and all the money we make from the race we give to the school district,” Gibson said. “We’ve been able to give back thousands of dollars over the years to the schools for various projects.”
Gibson said he’s proud of his business and the community it serves.
“I love Kershaw County. I find this a great place to live and do business. The people here are wonderful to work with,” Gibson said. “When I first retired from the Navy, I knew absolutely nothing about business.”
Fitness Zone is open 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information call 438-3811.