WINDHAM – On Saturday, May 24, Meredith and Bob Hanby abruptly closed the Rohan Fitness and Strength Center off Route 302 in North Windham, the gym formerly known as 21st Century Family Fitness that they had purchased from John Booth last July.

Meredith Hanby, who had not notified her customers of the impending closure, posted a written notice on the fitness center’s door, explaining her decision.

“Please understand that I signed the lease of this building and business under the agreement that John Booth would resume ownership if I decided that I would not continue beyond June 30, 2014,” she wrote. “Believing this agreement was made in good faith, I continued to sell pre-paid memberships just as John had done last spring. Unbeknownst to me, this was not John’s intention, and he will not resume ownership. With this new realization, I had to make a business decision.”

Booth, of Winslow, is general manager of Hammer Fitness, which is listed in Windham’s property tax database as the owner of the Rohan fitness building located at 8 Heathwood Drive. Repeated attempts to contact Booth were unsuccessful prior to deadline.

Hanby said she decided to close the facility two days earlier, on May 22.

“For all of my pre-paid members, I realize this decision is to your financial detriment,” Hanby wrote in an email to gym clients. “For those that have purchased a six-month or one-year, pre-paid membership in the last few months, once I have covered the last of my expenses for May, I will use my remaining funds to reimburse you as best as I can.”

In the wake of the abrupt closing, Hanby said that the truth of the situation has been obscured by rumors, in part because the notice she posted on the door had been covered up.

“While some would like to believe that I closed the gym and ran away with their money, that is far from the truth,” Hanby said. “All memberships sold went straight to expenses. What little money I have left will be refunded to members as best as I can. This seems like the only right thing to do in this horrible situation. I can hope that some will forgive, but I fear that may not be the case.”

Hanby said the fitness center’s business model was simply not viable. She was in competition with several other fitness centers in the area, including a national chain that moved to North Windham in recent years.

“Business was not going to survive, let alone thrive,” she said. “The overhead costs were insurmountable, and it was difficult to compete with corporate gym rates even though we offered many more services. I was barely able to ‘pay the bills’ but, worse, I was not able to pay myself a salary the entire year. By March, I was fairly certain I would have to return the gym to the previous owner.”

In an email to Betty McLeod, a Windham resident and former Rohan fitness center member, Hanby said the gym’s failure has left her in dire financial straits.

“Believe it or not, I left with nothing,” Hanby wrote. “I went the year without collecting a salary in the desperate hopes that I could turn the business around and make it a success. Clearly I could not. I invested my savings and my teacher’s retirement funds into the gym and I leave with none of it. I don’t tell you this to earn your sympathy or even your understanding. I tell you in the hopes that you will not think of me as a conniving thief – but one who is trying her best to make amends.”

On May 16, McLeod paid $120 for six months of classes at the gym. When she went to the fitness center on May 28, she was surprised to find it shuttered.

“I was so disappointed and angry, too,” McLeod said. “Angry about losing the money, disappointed because I love that class, and I don’t really enjoy exercising. And I did like exercising with that group. It was a social thing.”

McLeod said that Hanby sent her $50 and two half-page letters earlier this week apologizing for the situation.

“She and her husband are good people,” McLeod said. “I will miss the gym and my Silver Sneakers class. While I am out $70, Meredith and Bob are out so much more.”

Bill Keller, a Windham resident and former Rohan member, who purchased monthly memberships to the gym, said he did not lose any money as a result of the sudden closure.

“I’m sad for all the people,” he said. “I’m sad for the owners, the instructors, certainly the people who use the facility. It was a nice family, locally oriented-type place. The classes were wonderful and I know the owners tried as best they could to make it work.”

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