Rec Center membership rises as economy falls

Amid an economic recession, many college students are sacrificing vanity in an effort to cut back and save a few bucks in the new year.

Money once spent on beauty and self-improvement services — such as tanning and hair salons, gym memberships and personal trainers — is now being saved or spent on basic necessities like rent and food. As a result, some students are taking advantage of the free on-campus Recreation Center, as well as amenities at off-campus apartment complexes.

“We have definitely experienced an increase in use based solely on the fact that students don’t need to spend anything to use our facility,” said Eric Hunter, director of Campus Recreation.

Hunter said that from fall 2007 to fall 2008, the number  of students using the Recreation Center each semester has increased from around 170,000 to 181,000 and is still rising this semester.

Though this is proving to be beneficial to students’ bank accounts, it is hindering the sales of local businesses looking to cash in on the college student lifestyle.

Even tanning salons such as Planet Beach and Tan USA have reported significant declines in their new clientele.

Junior sociology major and Planet Beach employee Brooke Alsup said that even though winter is the salon’s busiest season, this year has seen a drop in new memberships, which the salon attributes to the dwindling economy.

“There have definitely been more people canceling and/or freezing their accounts,” Alsup said. “It only costs $5 per month to freeze your account, and you don’t have to pay your full monthly payment as long as you’re not using the facility.”

Planet Beach advertises monthly specials on packages, lotions and free sessions for new members as incentives for people to come to the salon and see if a membership is something they can commit to, she said.

“I had a membership to Planet Beach so I could tan every month but decided to cancel it when it became too expensive,” said Nicole Reneau, a junior education major. “I wasn’t getting enough hours at work to be spending my money on such petty, unnecessary things.”

Sophomore accounting major Vivian Zans said she uses the tanning facilities at her apartment complex to avoid the cost of places like Planet Beach or Tan USA.

Though the number of college students using tanning facilities has declined, local gyms have been more fortunate with the coming of the new year.

Cassie Bouldin, corporate manager of public relations for Lifestyle Family Fitness, said the chain has been experiencing growth in memberships across both the state and country.

Locally, Lifestyle’s Tampa Palms operations manager Katie Gagne said there has been a lower number of membership cancellations since January.

“Corporate has even increased our monthly projected sales from 130 to 250 memberships, based on the fundamental that with the new year comes the resolution to lose weight,” she said.

Gagne said gym sales representatives are offering to waive the new membership fee with a “zero down, zero excuses” campaign to boost sales.

On the other hand, personal trainer Joseph Luther said that even though gym memberships are growing, he has noticed a decline in the use of personal trainers because people are using the Internet to look up workout techniques that can be done at home.

Some students, such as senior psychology major Matthew Lowe, have chosen not to renew their gym memberships and instead are taking advantage of the campus facilities.

“It’s easier in terms of convenience, and I don’t have to worry about factoring another payment into my budget,” he said. “I can just go to the Rec Center before or after classes.”