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Creating Community in California

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For 17 years, Shannon Boughn coached triathlons and taught fitness classes. For six years, she managed studios. But something was missing. She wanted to create a club that gave off a different vibe than others and was a welcoming community for everyone. 

Thus, 17th Street Athletic Club was born. The club is located in San Francisco’s Mission District, where Boughn has lived for 25 years. 

“I felt like I knew the neighborhood and knew how to create a space that would feel comfortable to the old neighborhood folks and the newcomers,” said Boughn. “Our club is diverse and reflects the demographics of the neighborhood.”

The club also stands out when it comes to its looks. Unlike most clubs, 17th Street gives off an old-school, boxing gym feel. With its exposed brick walls, wood floors and hint of steampunk décor, the two-room studio “is a place to create authentic connections and community.”

Community is created both inside the club walls and outside. 

“We donate to all local school auctions and community-serving nonprofits that ask,” said Boughn. “We offer discounts to school teachers and students. We patronize other neighborhood small businesses. We also sponsor the California Aids Lifecycle and the Women’s Sport Film Festival, which are in San Francisco.”

That community “vibe” is one thing Boughn credits for the success of the nearly three-year-old gym. Other keys to success include excellent instructors, and programming that is based on sound and supported exercise science. 

The most popular programs at 17th Street are those that combine cycle and strength. From cycle and circuits, to cycle and TRX, the 45 or 60-minute sessions are total-body workouts filled with instructor encouragement and music, and end with mobility and flexibility practice. 

Boughn said the fitness industry is one of trends and fads that come and go, and the industry seems particularly subject to the whims of celebrities and social media influencers. She explained 17th Street Athletic Club sees itself as being in the business of fitness. 

“We can be entertaining when we do this, but we are not primarily entertainers,” said Boughn. “We hold multiple fitness certifications and we keep up with trends that are backed with good science.”

While the club has been running successfully, there is one thing Boughn has struggled with: marketing — especially social media. “We are a small business, so we don’t have a staff to do those things,” she explained. “I try to hire folks for the front desk who have social media skills and are interested in marketing.” 

Overall, there are two main focuses at 17th Street: community and customer service. “Customer service is something we emphasize,” said Boughn. “I always want to help our clients because we believe they are our community. We want everyone to feel good as soon as they walk in the door.”  

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