Lori and Bill Craig finally realized a big dream on June 1 — they now own the building they have leased for almost seven years for Lori’s business, Better Life Fitness.
“When the ‘for sale’ signs hit on our building, people didn’t know what was going on,” Lori recalled. “We had to explain to everyone we had a few years left on the lease, we weren’t going anywhere. We had to be very patient and know, somehow, that we were going to pull it off.”
“We took a run at [owning the building] seven and a half years ago,” Bill said, when the credit union put it up for sale, “but the offer didn’t fly.”
Burg Jones bought it instead, and leased the space to the Craigs who set about gutting the old bank — the office now was the vault then. They did most of that themselves, then refinished it with the help of three carpenters, installed all the machines as the snow flew, and opened for exercise at the beginning of 2005.
“It was a lot of work, but it happened amazingly fast and went amazingly smooth,” Bill said about the three-month transformation to the building.
Since then, the couple has kept the building in good shape, but they felt, as renters, that they lacked the incentive to make really important improvements over the last seven years.
“When there’s a for sale sign on it, it’s not our building to make look really good,” Lori said, “We wanted to buy it.”
Bill said, “The prospect of getting energized to pour more money into a building that you don’t own…” and Lori finished, “it hurts.” Bill added, “With a lease, you never know.”
The Craigs relate how when their first lease was up in 2009, the lease rate went up and it took negotiation to bring it down for a new three-year lease. They approached Jones again about buying the property last fall, suggesting he section off two undeveloped commercial lots on the property and sell the building separately.
It took until now for Jones to decide to go for it and for both parties to settle on a price. The couple had to “dig in,” Bill explained, “we couldn’t walk away from the negotiations.” As Lori said, “perseverance is how we’ve done our life.”
The dedication paid off but, Bill added, “without Community Futures, we wouldn’t be having this interview. They’ve been fantastic right the way along.” Community Futures helped the couple finance the purchase with more reasonable terms than offered by any bank.
Lori said, “They saw the value in what we were doing. A lot of banks don’t do that. It’s all about the bottom line and the numbers.”
Now, as owners of the building, “we have better control of our costs. If we control our costs, we can keep our members happy,” Bill explained. “Our membership rates are probably the best in the Kootenays.”
Lori remarked, “The sale for me was terrifying. We’re in for the long term now. I’m going to put in a lot more years than I thought I would, because I love it.”
Until now, she thought she would retire when her daughter Camille graduated, but all that’s changed. She laughed, “I realized, man, this is just the start. I said to my butt blaster class I’ll be walking in with my walker when I’m 90 to teach the class!”
“There’s a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “Deep down inside, it was always meant to be ours, even when we missed out on that first opportunity.”
Anyone who goes to their centre knows that Lori runs a tight ship, from the centre’s clean sparkle to her close watch on the books, but Lori gives heavy credit to her partnership with Bill.
Bill understated the matter: “I take out the garbage and fix the machines.” But Lori said, “Bill’s the man. You see an out of order sign, and not a day goes by and it’s fixed. He’s literally wrenching once or twice a week. If he didn’t have his tools, and he didn’t have his experience, I wouldn’t be open because I wouldn’t be able to afford to get those machines fixed. It’s a great partnership.”
Now an agent with Century 21, Bill’s experience includes decades as an aircraft maintenance engineer specialized in heavy-lift helicopters. After graduating from BCIT, he moved to Smithers for some years where he met Lori. The couple left Smithers in 1989 for Victoria, and then Bill took a position as a base engineer in Haida Gwaii. And then they bumped into Rossland in 1992, felt the love, and bought a home almost immediately even though they were unable to move until the following year.
In the meantime, Lori never lost sight of her hard-driven philosophy: “The purpose of life is making it better. No one wants to get old, no one wants to be frail.”
“I’ve always been into fitness, probably since the day I could walk,” she said. I ran marathons when I was in my teens, I’ve done all sorts of journeys with different sports. I’ve always known it makes me feel really good inside, mentally, physically.”
Bill smiled as he recalled enjoying a six pack and looking on as Lori, with only three days notice, worked her six pack in the gruelling 18.5-kilometre Tongariro crossing alpine race in New Zealand.
“Fitness is my life,” Lori said. “I’m working my ass off just as hard as everyone in the gym. I’m stronger now at 48 than I was in my thirties.”
“She’s got a great attitude and a good following,” Bill said. “People come here at 5:45 to work out. I don’t know anybody else who could have pulled this together. It’s not all fun and games. There are some times you don’t know why the hell you’re there. But she manages to get through those times.”
“I’ve always believed that when you do something, you have to have joy in your heart,” she said. “When the alarm goes off at 4:40, it’s never pretty for anybody. But once the coffee hits your mug, you have your shower, I’m here at 5:45 and there couldn’t be anything else I could be so happy doing. I laugh all day!”
Now the future looks even brighter to the Craigs as they look forward to painting the front in the gym colours and Bill revels in finally having cleaned up the mess in the back and tackles other maintenance projects.
“I’m going to have to be even more creative with programs,” Lori said. “For me, it’s a renewal. This is my future now.”
“Those 13-year-olds coming in, they’re our longterm memberships. They’re going to be here until Grade 12.
“Or the Kung Fu kids downstairs,” Bill added. “These kids are our future business,” Lori agreed. “We take care of them when they come in.”
“I want my members to know,” she said, “I want the community to know. Come and buy a punch pass. Come and check us out. We’re here for them. Now that for sale sign’s down, the Craigs are going to be here for a long time.”