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The slow death of the downtown YMCA

Last updated on October 16, 2019

This post is about my thoughts on the recent announcement of the closing of the downtown YMCA. One of those oddly sad notices that perfectly framed my own emotional attachment to the building and all the years I spent inside its walls pursuing friendship, health, and camaraderie.

So yeah, I’ve been a member of the YMCA in downtown Columbus at the Long St location for some 20 years now. It’s this impressive old building that somehow survived the tear down all the old buildings fad of the ’70s & ’80s in Columbus, Ohio.

The minute you walk in, you feel the presence of past generations of men. Heavy wood. Ornate but not overstated. Large gathering areas conducive to brotherhood, support, and, most importantly, sport.

There’s this excellent basketball court with a Velo style running track upstairs. All wood. Racketball courts. A heavy bag, in a lonely little room upstairs, that I used to use after work.

My partner and I would go to work out there when the weight room was upstairs before the remodel of the ’90s. Later, we enjoyed the updated equipment in the basement gym. Swiss ball, Yoga, and swimming classes. Pool based lap workouts. So many times where we’d meet up with friends or meet new ones over the decades.

And yet, while the Columbus economy is on fire and there is a builder and real estate boom going on all over downtown with no signs of stopping, I’ve witnessed the slow decline of the YMCA now for about 6 years since we’ve been back from Dallas. Winter months, when it was freezing, and the boilers were out. For like two months. Which meant standing under a shower nozzle mid-day after a workout and being blasted by not just pipe cold water but water main cold water. It was something you had to take a few deep breaths before hosing off the stink of the workout and going back to work.

There were also signs in all of the equipment and treadmill breakages that went on for an extended period. Not to mention, and I don’t know why this bothered me so much, but the towel service was cut a year or so ago. It was just one of those nice-to-haves that made all the difference in the world. Even more than hot water and treadmills whose belts didn’t slip so much that you almost fell. Then there were the abrupt service hours of operation cuts that reduced gym hours significantly. So yeah, the signs were there already for a very long time. I was just in denial because I love the building and our history so much. Friends, long since dead, whom I used to work out with came alive here for me. Living memories.

The Short North has also gone through a similar decline and rebirth. So much so that it’s been wildly successful to the point that former fans have denounced the changes. I’m not one of those people. I think all change that invigorates the City and surrounding neighborhoods is good. Regardless of transitions that prune branches from the living organism.

So it was a personally sad moment for me to close my account, I am however looking forward to checking out new gyms around the area now. I’ll miss the Long St YMCA for sure, but I hope that whoever they sell that beautiful building to, with all its history and good testosterone rich karma, does it’s heritage honor while reinventing it as a new space that many generations after mine say will things like “did you know this used to be a YMCA?”

The letter that came out this week in response to the local Public Radio piece
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