‘It’s like someone is passing away’: Sunset Park’s Richie’s Gym to close in September

End of an era: Manager David Vale is getting ready to close Richie’s Gym on Sept. 12, after 29 years of serving the Sunset Park community.
Photo by Derrick Watterson

Patrons of a gritty, no-frills Sunset Park fitness center will have to pump iron somewhere else beginning Sept. 12, when the gym’s landlord will give them the boot after nearly 30 years in the neighborhood.

The decision to close Richie’s Gym — located on Fourth Avenue between 51st and 52nd streets — devastated fitness fanatics, who admit that some of the equipment has rusted over, but that’s exactly what they like about it.

“It’s very sad for a lot of people,” said Brian Montalvo, a longtime patron and current employee.

Richie’s Gym is stacked with two floors of old-school cardio and weight machines, many of which date back to the gym’s 1990 debut.

Montalvo said he weighed 300 pounds when his brother turned him on to Richie’s in 1997, but that the camaraderie he found there soon had him making daily trips to the Sunset Park fitness center — from his home in the Bronx!

“They call me insane, but there’s not a lot of places like this,” he said.

In January 2018, fans of Richie’s were furious when a Blink Fitness opened up just three doors down on Fourth Avenue, threatening the more expensive mom-and-pop gym with the fancy pants fitness franchise’s $15 monthly membership dues.

Closing: Two fans of Richie’s Gym, Willie Acevedo (left) and Christopher Kuepper (right), mourn the imminent closing of the Sunset Park gym.
Photo by Derrick Watterson

And, while Blink did cause a drop in Richie’s membership, it was the business’ landlord who ultimately decided to boot the old-school gym in a bid to court a well-heeled commercial buyer, Richie’s manager claimed.

“He wants to sell for big money because the neighborhood is changing,” said David Vale, who added that locals had banded together to try to buy the building, but the owner refused to sell it to them.

The gym’s imminent closure has been a blow to old-school gym rats and employees, who say Richie’s acted as a community center.

“It’s a business, but it’s also where people form a bond and form connections,” Vale said.

Montalvo claimed that he made many close friends while exercising, and said that the workout spot hosted weddings for couples who met while working out. The gym even inspired an acclaimed 2015 novel, “Preparation for the Next Life,” written by Richie’s regular Atticus Lish.

“This is all we have,” Montalvo said about the gym’s closing. “It’s like someone is passing away.”

The Sunset Park location may close, but Richie’s will live on in three newer locations in Bushwick, Cypress Hills and distant Queens that will remain open.

It’s over: Richie’s Gym member Oscar Vidals lifts weights at the old-school workout spot on Fourth Avenue, which will close on Sept. 12.
Photo by Derrick Watterson

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams

More from Around New York

>