This wasn’t part of the plan. While it seems that Twisters Sports couldn’t have chosen a worse time to relocate, the move was in motion prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
The current circumstances have put the gym on the cusp of closing, prompting the owners to ask the community for financial assistance.
Founded in Los Altos and based in Mountain View for 40 years, Twisters moved to Sunnyvale in 2015. Now the gym is on the move again, this time to Santa Clara, for the same reason it relocated in the past: rising rent.
“Our lease ended in 2019 in Sunnyvale and we told the landlord we were not going to renew because we had been priced out,” said Allan Fusilero, who has owned the gym with his wife Ericka since 2006. “We started looking for a new space and found it that year, and our landlord allowed us to stay until June of 2020 while the new place was being worked on.”
Virus impedes progress
The Fusileros expected to be in their new location by now – a building on Bowers Avenue they agreed to lease for 20 years – but COVID-19 derailed those plans. Not only did they have to close Twisters in March, preventing them from generating revenue needed for the move, but the pandemic also dramatically slowed the process of remaking the former Walmart warehouse into a 11,500-square-foot space for gymnastics, martial arts and dance.
“The city is backed up and is meeting only monthly about projects,” Fusilero said of the Santa Clara Planning Commission, which met twice a month pre-pandemic. “We started on this in January and were supposed to open in June, but we still don’t have a building permit because of the city’s slow process. We only have conditional-use and demo permits.”
Demolition began two weeks ago, and Fusilero is optimistic that the gym will open by January. In the meantime, there is no money coming in. The Paycheck Protection Program loan Twisters received from the government ran out last month, he said, forcing him to lay off all but four members of what was once a staff of 32.
“We had savings and thought we could weather it,” said Fusilero, who has three young daughters with Ericka. “But from June to now without revenue coming in and having to pay for improvements and permits in our new space, it’s all dried up. And we’ve already put so much money into (the move) that we can’t turn back now.”
A plea for assistance
That prompted Fusilero to start a two-phase GoFundMe campaign last month with the goal of raising a total of $120,000. He sought $20,000 for the first phase, dubbed the Re-Open Campaign, and succeeded.
“The community around us, including a lot of people who have been a part of the gym in the past, donated,” Fusilero said. “A lot of the help came from the Mountain View area, where we were for so long.”
The oldest gym in the South Bay, according to Fusilero, Twisters was founded in 1967 by a group of gymnastics parents at Los Altos High seeking private training for their daughters so they could compete at a higher level. Twisters secured its own facility in 1975, on Terminal Boulevard in Mountain View, where he said membership peaked at 1,100 students.
“That was before Larry Nassar,” Fusilero said, referring to the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor convicted in 2016 of sexual assaulting scores of gymnasts. “Enrollment across the country went down after that.”
Twisters had 800 students prior to shutting down in March, he added, including several from Los Altos and Mountain View. The Fusileros – both former college gymnasts – and the few other remaining coaches haven’t been able to work with their students since then.
Fusilero hopes the second phase of the GoFundMe campaign will raise enough money to ensure that Twisters remains in business. The Stay Open Campaign is a much bigger ask at $100,000, though, and had brought in only $6,275 as of Friday.
“We’ve got a ways to go – and that’s just to weather (the pandemic),” Fusilero said. “We’ll have to make it to late 2021, according to the experts.”
Until then, Fusilero doesn’t envision the new gym getting anywhere near its 800-person capacity because of the county’s health orders related to the virus.
“The rules have been back and forth,” he said. “There was a period when gyms opened at 10% of occupancy, then the COVID numbers went up and everyone had to go outside. Then it was back to 10% and now it’s up to 25%. I don’t believe that’s sustainable for the long run. Gyms work the same as restaurants – you need to be packed to see a profit.”
Ties to community
Along with training gymnasts, Twisters has a long history of hosting high school meets. The teams from Los Altos, Mountain View and St. Francis highs typically compete at the gym a few times a year.
“We would love to get them back,” he said, adding that the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League and Central Coast Section championships have been held at Twisters multiple times. “We’re trying. It looks like we won’t open until Jan. 1, and the high school season starts soon after that.”
Until then, Twisters will try to hold on with help from supporters like Los Altos resident Yen Lee, whose daughter Madeline was a regular there before the shutdown.
“Her love of gymnastics stemmed from the great staff and culture of Twisters,” Lee said. “When we found out about their business (situation), we had to join and support them. For us, it was more than a gym – it was a community.”
That’s how Melissa Abe sees it, too. Growing up in Palo Alto, she took her first gymnastics class at Twisters and said the gym was a part of her childhood from age 8 to 18. When daughter Ashleigh became a competitive gymnast, she trained there as well.
“Twisters will always have a special place in our hearts,” Abe said, “and we hope it can continue to serve the community, giving children the opportunity to learn from and enjoy all that the sport of gymnastics has to offer.”
To contribute to Twisters’ GoFundMe campaign, visit gf.me/u/y4kah6.
For more information on Twisters Sports, visit twisterssportscenter.com.