By Jean Bowick
Buckets catch the rain inside Birmingham’s oldest gym, NEXT Total Fitness in Roebuck. The first of three original Sportplex branches, the 34-year-old facility will close its doors for good November 26. But despite the leaky roof, peeling paint and dated equipment, the mood among NEXT members is melancholy.
For three decades faithful regulars have gathered at NEXT to bench weight, walk the track, swim some laps, or share a game of cards while fresh coffee was brewing behind the counter. Among the core group are the early-morning professionals, mid-morning retirees and evening racquetball players. They share birthday cakes, Christmas presents and sympathy cards.
Although NEXT still retains its liquor license, the full-service bar upstairs stopped serving drinks long ago. Present disagreements with the City over building code are to blame for the gym‘s closing, even with NEXT’s considerable investment to repair a recent gas leak.
In its heyday Sportplex hosted 3,000 members, with prominent guests including the mayor and several city officials. “People were lining up to get in here,” said Edward Friz, NEXT general manager. “This place was packed with people, some of whom never even picked up a weight – just because it was the place to be.”