While in the Knoxville, Tenn., area earlier this month for a GearTrendsÂ® company summit, we couldn't resist checking out a small store in a rural area northeast of town. With a sign that boasted its fitness center, as well as video rental, saunas, pea gravel and an extra-large scoop of mulch (for $14), curiosity overcame us.
Imogene's Variety, in Sharp's Chapel, does indeed offer it all. Dare the stairs up to the rickety wood porch complete with benches and two Coca-Cola machines, and the adventure begins.
You're greeted by a nice young woman behind a glass case that is filled and stacked with everything from necklaces and sunglasses to toys, candles and head shop paraphernalia like pipes and bongs.
"I sold a bong yesterday, and two or three pipes," offered Christie, 25, the clerk who lives across the street and has been working there since she was "like, 16 or 17."
We make our way past a wall display of Harley trinkets like pins and hats, a round display of souvenir T-shirts, and a rack of wind chimes into the "fitness center." According to Christie, they have about 200 members and close to 50 who use it regularly.
A fascinating mix of equipment it is that Imogene's fitness annex offers (it used to be a dance hall with square dancing, but that moved up the road). The good-sized and very clean room has a full circuit of weight equipment, mostly labeled "Wholesale Fitness Equipment," including benches and free weights. OK, it's obviously been kicked around a bit, but it seems to function decently.
The cardio equipment was mostly a museum, though. There's a Weslo Alta 15c, a Proform Crosswalk GT (with a broken arm), a Proform 595LE treadmill, a Proform 585 treadmill (with a smashed console), a so-called Lifestyler Cardiofit bike (an old Icon product), a Schwinn ergometer that was indeed ancient, a Total Body Comfort System bike (?) and, the newest member of the cardio group we suspect, a Vision T9700 treadmill.
Christie said the center had been open about four or five years, which jibes with the story taped on the wall on the "10 Biggest Fitness Mistakes" that ran in 1999 in the now-defunct American Health magazine. Christie told us that owner Imogene Woods was getting asked about a place to workout so she decided to fill the space. It began as a couple of cardio pieces in the entrance area with a couch and a place where kids could play while their moms worked out, but demand grew so Woods, who has an IFPA certification from March 1998, moved the center into the back space and expanded it.
Membership normally runs $200 a year, but a current special had it for $99. We asked about the sign in front that says Imogene's also has "Videos and Dancing," but found out the dancing was actually supplanted by the workout area five years ago.
"Yeah," said Christie, "we haven't ever taken that down."
SNEWSÂ® View: Sure, it was hilarious to see this kind of collection of equipment called a "fitness center," especially when you had to make your way past jewelry, Harley gear and bongs to get there. Nevertheless, you have to hand it to the owner for listening to her customers who live in very rural Sharp's Chapel. There isn't much there, but they wanted a place to workout, particularly on humid days in the lake area. She filled the gap -- likely without a lot of investment -- and keeps it going. OK, OK, it's filled with equipment that mostly isn't made for heavier use, which is likely why some of it is broken, but it's there -- in a place most gyms would blow off as any kind of possible location. Now, about that extra large scoop of mulchâ€¦.