Dynamic business plan could spawn Seaford revival

Carol Canfield, a trainer at Body & Soul, works out. Lauren Mills, right, managers the gym.
Carol Canfield, a trainer at Body & Soul, works out. Lauren Mills, right, manages the gym.

by Kathy Canavan

SEAFORD — Except for an occasional “open” sign, the once-bustling Nylon Capital Shopping Center here is now a string of empty glass display windows and a sea of empty parking spaces. 

The center, packed in the ’60s and ’70s, is nearly empty now, save a few lonesome stores. The nylon boom is clearly over in Seaford. The city even dropped its “Nylon Capital” moniker last year and replaced it with a hopeful new one: “the perfect place to start.”

When Susan and Robert Rider decided to build a new $1.25 million fitness center last year, they could have chosen a spot closer to their home in Seaford’s charming downtown or one on bustling U.S. 13. Instead, they picked a large space at the rear of the forlorn shopping center.

“We are an anchor store because the shopping center has been vacant for 30 or 35 years,” Susan Rider said.

Their hope: Start a business revival on the west side of the city.  “We would like to see a grocery store come,” she said.

Susan Rider said she remembers when there was a Woolworth’s and department stores and clothing stores. Her husband Rob said they hope their move can bring some of that activity back to the shopping center a few miles from their home.

The couple thought they could help themselves and their town by opening their Body & Soul Fitness and Spa.

“We’re interested in our own health,” said Rob Rider, who is also CEO of 100-year-old O.A. Newton in Bridgeville. Rider said they were moved by the death of his father Robert Rider Sr. in 2012. “We kind of watched his health go downhill, and we made a commitment to ourselves. I always felt, if he had done more to keep his muscles fit, he might have living longer.”

They had started taking spin classes before they got the idea for the fitness center and thought a spin studio might be just the ticket, but the demographics in Seaford didn’t support it, he said.

They knew that gyms can be intimidating, so they set out to create one that wasn’t. “We wanted to create an environment where anybody would feel comfortable,” he said.

They figured the best model would be a full-service gym with some boutique services like a spin studio and yoga studio built in.  They purchased a stunning array of Life Fitness equipment. Machines are lined up like the Rockettes in the new 17,000-square-foot space. They got a dietitian to formulate meal plans to work in tandem with fitness classes. They have 30 mostly part-time employees including personal trainers. There is an in-house child-care center.

They’ve used every tact he learned to promote O.A. Newton, something Rob Rider calls guerilla marketing. 

Before they even opened, they sponsored a race in town and brought the runners back to the fitness center to show them what was coming.

Their daughter gets the word out on social media.

They’re doing an exercise program specifically for bariatric surgery patients at nearby Nanticoke Health Services.

They contacted schools and youth groups and swim teams offering specialized fitness programs.

In 13 months, they’ve signed up approximately 600 members, and they hope to offer more programs for hospital patients, link up with more doctors and form alliances with business associations.

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