It's the end of an era for Susan Hodges and her chosen family of fitness enthusiast seniors who are about to lose the place that brought them together and kept them fit.
There are currently no closure signs posted at the Southside YMCA, located in the 8400 block of Perkins Road, but Christian Engle, president and chief executive officer for the YMCA of the Capital Area confirmed Wednesday the branch — along with the Baranco-Clark YMCA in Old South Baton Rouge — will completely shutter soon.
"Like a lot of businesses, COVID-19 had an impact on us as well," said Christian Engle, president and CEO of the YMCA of the Capital Area.
Currently, there are still some group exercise classes taking place at Southside, Engle said.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic brought local and national economies to a halt, the Southside YMCA and several other branches in the Baton Rouge Metro area were experiencing declining revenues following the 2016 floods, Engle said. Last year, the YMCA of the Capital Area shut down indoor pool services at the Southside branch and C.B. Pennington Jr. location.
When the organization announced first-phase reopenings after the coronavirus stay at home order was relaxed, officials revealed the Baranco-Clark YMCA in Old South Baton Rouge was closing indefinitely but didn't mention anything about the Southside branch shutting its doors as well.
The other seven recreational facilities in the area have opened with modified operating hours.
Hodges and her friends say they learned about the closure through the grapevine a few weeks ago, instead of from officials.
"They could have sent out letters and invited everyone to come in and explain what the problem was," the 76 year-old Baton Rouge woman said. "We've heard it from a board member and were completely shocked and couldn't get any info."
Engle said the corporate office has posted news of the impending closure on social media and its website.
"Things are changing based on demographics, the area and population—then you throw a pandemic in the mix," he said. "Over the years we've opened 16 YMCAs and closed seven in the Baton Rouge area."
Jerry Carbo, an 80-year-old Baton Rouge man, has been working out at the Southside YMCA six days a week for at least 30 years. He met Hodges there, and a lot of other active seniors like him, who he said are now forced to go to other branches or join other gyms.
"This broke up the band (and) you know us older people don't like change," he said. "It kind of upsets us. We're disappointed. Discouraged."
Members were still being billed monthly when the branches were temporarily closed. And those who frequent the Southside branch are still getting billed, since monthly membership dues gives people access to any one of the YMCA's facilities.
Carbo has been working out at the C. B. Pennington Jr. YMCA while Hodges, her husband and a few others have started going to Spectrum.
"I see it being a business decision," Hodges said. "I just think as a Christian organization they could have handled it differently. But this is the way it is; a tough break."