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Baltimore’s Meadow Mill Athletic Club will close after nearly three decades, citing pandemic difficulties

Meadow Mill Athletic Club, a well-known gym and squash facility in a converted mill in Baltimore’s Woodberry neighborhood, plans to close this summer, citing difficulties during the pandemic.

Meadow Mill Athletic Club, a well-known gym and squash facility in Baltimore’s Woodberry neighborhood, plans to close this summer.
Meadow Mill Athletic Club, a well-known gym and squash facility in Baltimore’s Woodberry neighborhood, plans to close this summer. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

The last day of business for the nearly 30-year-old club will be July 30, said Nancy Cushman, the owner.

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The whole pandemic just put us in a horrible situation,” Cushman said Thursday. “Gyms across the country have suffered, and it’s totally understandable that people don’t want to come in to inside activities,” after becoming used to outdoor fitness and online exercise.

“It really is going to be difficult for the industry to come back, and I don’t know if it ever is going to come back to the point it was,” she said.

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The 40,000-square-foot club is home to a fitness gym and one of the largest commercial squash facilities in the U.S., with 14 single and two double squash courts. The club also offers group fitness classes.

Meadow Mill also is the facility partner of Baltimore Squashwise, a program to introduce city youth to squash and use the sport to motivate students.

Indoor fitness centers and gyms were among Maryland businesses shut down in March 2020 to slow the COVID-19 outbreak. Gov. Larry Hogan issued an order on March 16 last year to close gyms along with bars, restaurants and movie theaters.

Three months later, the state allowed fitness centers and gyms to reopen, but at only half capacity. Meadow Mill had been closed for three months when it reopened on June 20 last year. The club continued its fitness classes, but nearly all were virtual, the preferred choice of most instructors and many members. Spin classes eventually resumed in person but were not well attended.

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Cushman said people did not return to the club in the numbers she had hoped. Her club is one of the few that offers month-to-month memberships, and those memberships typically are lower even in normal times in the warmer months. The business was forced to cut back some services and lay off some employees.

“Even in the last few weeks when things started to open up, none of my instructors were clamoring to come inside,” she said. “People have gotten used to it.”

She said her landlord has worked with her and she received two emergency pandemic loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Still, it became too difficult to pay the bills.

She alerted members and former members of her plans in an email sent this month.

“I’d like to thank all of you who have helped Meadow Mill Athletic Club become such a great place to be over the last 29 years,” she said in the email. “We had no idea our dreams would create such a warm, kind community.”

The closure will be especially hard for Baltimore’s squash playing community, including herself, Cushman said. Besides offering options for members, the squash courts were used by high school teams and hosted middle school, high school and college level tournaments.

When it opened in 1992, the fitness center was one of the first tenants of the redeveloped Meadow Mill. The Jones Falls Valley mill was originally built in 1877 as a textile factory and later owned by Londontown Manufacturing Co., where it made London Fog raincoats until 1988.

Cushman said she and former partners had searched for space to accommodate squash courts for four years before finding the raincoat maker’s former warehouse at Meadow Mill, a large open space.

Baltimore developer Himmelrich Associates had purchased the historic, 200,000-square foot former mill and in 1990 began converting it into loft-style offices, artists studios and other uses.

It’s now home to restaurant La Cuchara restaurant, Stone Mill Bakery, consulting firms, design and technology companies and nonprofits.

Cushman said she is hoping to sell off all of her equipment and furnishings.

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