Norwich — Jolene Bowers called it serendipity that Gina Facchini, owner of Norwich Fitness Center, left her a polite voicemail asking if the longtime owner of Summit Fitness was looking for a potential collaborator.
“She was so diplomatic,” Bowers said of the voicemail nine months ago that she still has on her phone. “She didn’t say, ‘I heard you’re retiring.’ She just said, ‘I hear you might want to collaborate with others.’”
Collaborate they did, and this week, Facchini moved the last pieces of equipment from the cramped downtown Norwich space, where she first launched her CrossFit business in 2017, into the spacious Summit Fitness.
Facchini will take over the operations at the 2 Wisconsin Ave. location in the Norwich Business Park from owners Jolene and Henry Bowers, who will retire. Jolene Bowers will help with the transition but hopes to be done by the end of February. The couple purchased what was Norwich’s first fitness center 22 years ago. Jolene has worked at the center for the past 43 years.
The Bowers named it Summit, because it is located on the highest hill in Norwich. Facchini, however, will change it to Norwich Fitness Center.
Facchini plans to build on the Bowers’ legacy, integrating her multifaceted CrossFit and sports training programs and classes with the full-service gym on the hill. Facchini leaves behind a 5,000-square-foot space for the 40,000-square-foot facility including a 20,000-square-foot arena with three basketball courts.
On Friday, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and two representatives from the Women’s Business Development Council put a state spotlight on Facchini and Michelle Blais, owner of MB Graphic Design in Norwich, both recipients of the WBDC Equity Match Grant Program. Each received the maximum $10,000 matching grant funds to expand their operations.
During a news conference Friday, with members working on CrossFit gear in the background, Facchini said the grant helped pay for the move, buy new equipment, especially for her growing youth programs, and gave her working capital. Blais said she used the grant to develop a video for an online class for businesses learning to create or improve their websites.
“The Women’s Business Development equity match grant is my first grant that I actually applied for,” Facchini said. “I had no idea or any inkling that I would receive it, and I’m so excited that I did it. It actually gave me the confidence boost to keep pursuing this dream.”
Facchini, a 2007 Norwich Free Academy graduate, said she always wanted to open a sportsplex since she was a kid, when sports gave her a point of focus as a child in foster care.
“Sports saved me,” she said. “If it wasn’t for sports, I don’t know where I would be.”
She thanked city leaders and the Norwich Community Development Corp. for helping her get started at Foundry 66 downtown and to expand and move into the new facility.
Mayor Peter Nystrom said Facchini is a perfect example of how Foundry 66 helps businesses “incubate, expand, get stronger and get bigger with more opportunities for themselves and their clients.” He thanked her for staying in Norwich.
Facchini said her first task in the transition will be to transfer Summit’s 1,200 members into the new software system. She will assure them the current services and coaches will remain, and more will be added. All 10 of her coaches made the move. Her own members helped pack and move equipment one day this week.
“My members are so awesome,” Facchini said.
It was those 50 or so dedicated members who kept Norwich Fitness Center afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, Facchini said. The state closed gyms, fitness centers and other public workout facilities from March to June 2020. Facchini shifted some classes online but lost about half her members.
“At one point, I was super depressed about maybe having to close. We were shut down from March to June 2020. I’m just truly thankful for them,” she said of her members. “I was just questioning whether I could stay open.”
When the facility reopened with COVID-19 precautions, members returned, and Facchini resumed her dream. With limited space, she had to schedule carefully the youth programs, sports training, CrossFit and specialized sessions, such as pitching lessons. The indoor green-turf mound and home plate were separated from workout equipment with a 70-foot net.
Facchini looked at vacant warehouse space to expand, and then she heard that Summit had put in a new basketball court. So, she called Bowers.
Facchini plans three phases of transition.
First, she will install her CrossFit equipment to the front court in the arena, then upgrade the other two courts with new floors marked for multiple sports, such as volleyball and pickleball. Then she will update the large front gym, filled with workout equipment, bringing in new machines and will “make it look nicer,” she said. The phases could overlap.
Massage therapist Melissa Biggins, owner of Inner Balance Therapeutic Massage, is staying. She has occupied a quiet, cozy corner with a lobby and two private massage therapy rooms at Summit for more than 12 years.
Facchini talks passionately about CrossFit, which she said can benefit anyone from serious athletes to people just wanting to lose weight or bring diabetes under control and young people preparing to join the military.
With the upgraded sports courts, Facchini hopes to host travel team tournaments and bring athletes to Norwich from distant places.
“We have members from all over the place,” she said. “I want to make the new gym a world-class facility that attracts people from all over.”