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Reform Fitness Brings New Energy to an Old Locale

When a friend sent me a message asking me if I tried the new reformer studio on Elmwood that she poetically described as “pilates on crack,” I knew I had to give it a go. Reform Fitness is located at 467 Elmwood Avenue at the corner of Hodge Street. Their Lagree Method of fitness classes effectively combine resistance and cardiovascular training to deliver a one-two punch to a workout. But first…

The Building:

Built in 1889, the structure at Elmwood and Hodge was one of the first buildings on Elmwood Avenue, and has been in Jim Pepe’s family for generations. Pepe is owner of Hodge Wine & Liquor, and his grandfather purchased the property in 1947. Pepe recalls his father saying that that corner spot had always been a restaurant of some sort, most recently Ambrosia Restaurant, operated by Stavros Milliaris, and a favorite haunt of Buffalonians for decades. Originally, the corner space was only half the current size, with The Bluebird Shop, a card and gift store run by Pepe’s wife, situated between Ambrosia and the liquor store. Some 20 years ago Milliaris approached Pepe to expand the restaurant. The Bluebird Shop closed and the expansion took place.

In 2015 Milliaris moved back to his native country of Greece, Ambrosia closed, and the space remained vacant for about two years. In 2017 Pepe rented to someone who opened a Hookah Lounge; however, within one year the lounge was closed by the city for gun violence, and the space sat vacant once again.

Meanwhile, Brittany Gabryel had been looking to open a second Reform Fitness location in the city. While experiencing much success in the Southtowns, she noticed that many of her clients were driving from Buffalo to Orchard Park for classes, she knew this was the next step for her business. But she needed a space that would accommodate 10 Megaformers (more on that later) with adequate ceiling height. 467 Elmwood provided just that and more.

Gabryel turned to Raelyn Woltz, principal designer and owner of West End Interiors. An “industrial city vibe” was the vision for the 2,750 square foot space, and Woltz employed several local craftsmen to accomplish it.

To begin, the interior was gutted down to four walls. Immediately it was realized that sitting on the corner of a busy city block, floor to ceiling windows were not ideal for a fitness studio, but Gabryel adored the natural light that flowed in from the west facing windows and did not want to simply cover them up. Installation artist Max Collins came up with a solution. Using a wheat paste he adhered photo images of the Peace Bridge to large antique windows that were hung from the ceiling. The functional artwork not only provides discreet privacy from the street while filtering natural light, but adds an industrial element through the steel framework images of the bridge.

With the entrance door centered on the Elmwood side, Woltz wanted to create an innovative way to lead clients through the studio without building walls. To do this she called on Norman Cramer of Norman Cramer Furniture and Design who built slatted wall and ceiling fixtures from wood that effectively direct clients to the lounge area and reception desk without closing off any part of the space.

The reception’s visual impact is impressive with a large urban metal backdrop, the handiwork of Angelo Palmieri of Nickel City Metal Works. Palmieri also designed and built the complimentary platform railings that partition off what was once a restaurant patio, but is now home to cubbies and storage space for clients, with seating areas to remove coats and shoes.

Bathrooms were added, along with two separate and spacious shower and changing rooms.

The renovation took over a year to complete, and was capped off with an appropriate lighting fixture by Andrew Emerson of Emerson James Inc., illuminating the words “Time to Sweat.”

Woltz is happy with the result. “Even though the studio is quite large with 12 foot ceilings, it feels cozy and welcoming. It’s like a boutique studio rather than a commercial fitness facility.”

The Business:

Gabryel was first introduced to Lagree Method Fitness, a high-intensity low impact muscular endurance workout founded by Sebastien Lagree, while living in Los Angeles in 2005, and immediately fell in love with the workout. After moving to New York City in 2013, she located a Lagree studio in Manhattan and became certified as an instructor while working behind the scenes as well. As a result, she also learned how the business was run.

With a solid skill set and the guidance of Lagree himself, Gabryel moved back to her roots in Western New York and opened her own studio on East Quaker Road in Orchard Park in 2015, the first Lagree studio in the region. She began looking for a second location in the city in early 2017, and signed a lease with Pepe for her spot in the Elmwood Village in July of 2018. Renovation began that Fall.

This past January the doors officially opened at Reform Fitness’s city location. Pepe could not be more delighted with his new tenant, stating, “What they did with the space is probably the best thing I could have imagined. Brittany is the perfect tenant with wonderful clientele.” He continues, “I truly think that Reform Fitness is a really positive addition to Elmwood Avenue.”

The Workout:

Lagree workouts take place on a Megaformer, which has been described as a pilates reformer on steroids. According to Women’s Health Magazine, “Both Megaformers and classic Pilates reformers are long contraptions made up of two stable platforms (one on the front, one on the back) and a gliding carriage in the middle—but that’s where the similarities between the two machines end. For starters, the reformer is meant to challenge the body while performing Pilates. But the Megaformer was designed with the goal of merging Pilates with cardio, but in a low-impact way.”

These massive machines carry a hefty price tag at $10k each, and the Elmwood location comfortably accommodates ten of them. The consequence of working out on one of these state of the art behemoths over time is one toned, strengthened, tightened, and beautiful body.

The program is designed to test and improve cardio, strength, endurance, core, balance, and flexibility. Each 40-minute session is guided by a Lagree certified instructor who directs the class to perform variations of slow and intentional movements such as planks, lunges, pikes, push-ups, and squats, that challenge muscle groups to the point of fatigue. With no down time, the transitions between each movement are as much a part of the workout as the exercises themselves. Just a slight shift in balance and weight bearing can be enough to engage a completely different group of muscles. The result is a full-body workout you will certainly feel the effects of the next day. Expect to sweat and feel your muscles shake!

Gabryel describes a similarity to yoga in that the more frequently you practice Lagree, the more you develop your skill, and the easier it is to slow down and really focus on the the muscles you are working. This growth of practice is what she finds most exciting and rewarding. When first trying out a class, some clients are unable to hold a plank, let alone transition from a plank to a pike. Through modifications, time, and practice, seeing that very client hit their first transition is what it’s all about for Gabryel. She explains, “It’s moments like this that make me proud to have brought Lagree to Buffalo, when I realize that I am helping people become stronger. Lagree has the ability to challenge and inspire an individual to do something they never thought possible.”

Experience for yourself what Lagree workouts are all about. Find out more on their website. What have you got to lose, other than a few pounds?

Written by Holly Metz Doyle

Holly Metz Doyle

A Buffalo native, Holly spent quite a bit of time traveling the globe, but after living on the West coast for a bit was called back to her roots in Western New York.

View All Articles by Holly Metz Doyle
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