Many fitness centers pride themselves on attracting members through a combination of great facilities, customer service, classes and personal trainers.

A few weeks ago at the new Can Do Fitness center in Princeton Forrestal Village, I got a chance to see the facility’s approach to customer service. As a member wanting to get back into the type of shape I was in as a younger man, I had just finished a late Friday-night workout when I noticed Steve Koehler, the gym’s operations manager, with a squeegee-like tool, emptying water from the shower area.

“Dude, what are you doing here, at this hour?” I asked.

“This needs to be done, and I’m doing it because it needs to be done,” he says.

Although Koehler had seen me working out and hanging out at the facility, he had no idea that he was going beyond his job description and talking matter-of-factly about it to a reporter who had been assigned, as a Can Do member and as a journalist, to critique the club.

But that anecdote cemented the impression that the people who own, manage, and work at the new Can Do fitness center care about service, that they will go beyond their duties to make sure they give good service, and that they will work to correct the glitches that are inevitable in any new enterprise.

I am a certified personal trainer, and worked for almost two years at two of the top fitness centers in the Princeton area, and I have a very exacting set of standards when I evaluate a club that I am thinking of spending my hard-earned money on.

So far Can Do Fitness, which opened way behind schedule, on July 4, has lived up to its claims to be a new type of gym. The facility is the largest, most attractive — and most expensive — large gym in the Princeton area, and its trainers, group instructors, equipment, and customer service are either comparable or superior to those at any other facility in the area.

Everything about Can Do screams “upscale.” It is a three-story structure in the former Forrestal Village food court that has 73,000 square feet of cardio and strength equipment, studios for boxing, aerobics, and yoga, two swimming pools, a complete Pilates studio, a cafe and juice bar, and a hot tub (still under construction).

The facility, which added 5,000 square feet to the footprint of the former Forrestal Village food court, was built by Gale Construction. Although architectural firms Fabiano Designs International in Montclair and Sterba Pagani & Associates in Totowa drew up the floor plans, the new owners, Stuart and Gina Polevoy, laid out the basic design for the facility. And Gina Polevoy came up with the color scheme and general look of Can Do.

A good looking club, Can Do’s interior sports beige woods, strategically placed stone walls, and soft lighting for a bright, active appearance.

The exercise experience is as luxurious as can be expected in a place where effort and pain are required. A series of plasma TVs, usually playing music videos but sometimes (thankfully) tuned to programming such as ESPN, are strategically placed in the cardio areas and the downstairs weight room.

The facility manages to be both plush and utilitarian at the same time — floors are either carpeted or covered with a workout mat surface, except in the yoga studio and group fitness areas, which have shiny hardwood floors.

After checking in, members are greeted by an escalator to take them to the locker room or cardio areas; a stone, working fireplace is the centerpiece of a members’ lounge off to the side of the escalator.

All of the cardio equipment — treadmills, two distinct types of ellipticals, three styles of stairclimbers — is high-quality, as is the array of weightlifting machines and free weights. Each cardio machine has a small screen which has cable TV and music piped in — a “cardio theater.”

Two flexibility areas — one adjacent to the downstairs boxing room and the other upstairs in an alcove looking over the front of the club — give a member the opportunity to stretch or do core work.

Every gym offers lockers, but at most you have to hunt for an empty locker, and secure it with your own lock. Not so at Can Do, where there are assigned locker for rent, and no locker requires a key. Each locker has an individually programmable touch-entry system.

While all of the area’s new gyms have substantially upgraded the utilitarian, shared showers that used to be standard, the showers at Can Do go a step further than most. Each contains a system of water jets that soothe each part of the body while you clean up. You can also go to a steam room and a sauna before or after your shower. Metrosexuals can also take advantage of the hair dryers that are built into the bathroom sinks.

Can Do also has a child care facility, which is free for members, and a martial arts studio, where the Korean arts of tae kwon do and hapkido are taught.

The building is also home to the Koi Spa, which offers hairstyling, manicures, and other spa services, including massages, to men and women. You do not have to be a member of Can Do to use Koi Spa, which has its own entrance.

“Part of our goal is to make sure that each and every offering we have is superior to the competition,” says Stuart Polevoy, a Wayne resident and the son of the co-founder of the Pathmark supermarket chain, who spent $20 million to get Can Do up and running.

Polevoy and his wife, Gina, own three other Can Do Fitness clubs in New Jersey. The first, in Wayne, opened in 1998, and others followed in Short Hills (2001) and Edgewater (2004).

Gina Polevoy, an interior designer who met her husband on a blind date in 1978, designed all of the clubs and runs Koi Spa. She received a gold award from the American Society for Interior Design for the Wayne club. The two-level Koi Spa features massage rooms, baths, salon space for men and women, and a relaxation studio with an aquarium that features Japanese koi fish.

Before founding Pathmark, Polevoy’s father, Louis, worked with his grandfather in butcher shops and grocery stores they owned in Brooklyn and Queens, and his mother worked in the business as well.

At the age of 11, in Kew Gardens Hills, Polevoy cut his teeth, so to speak, by eviscerating chickens in his father’s butcher shops. He received a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting in 1965 from Babson College in Massachusetts.

With his brother, Steven, Polevoy built a business in livestock. The pair owned facilities in 20 states across the heartland, and both raised animals and processed them into different foodstuffs. “When it was alive, he took care of it, and when it was dead, I took care of it,” he says.

Polevoy sold his stake in the livestock business to his brother, and his food processing business to ConAgra, one of the country’s largest food conglomerates, in 1998, and was looking for another business to get into. By that time he had also begun developing commercial properties, including strip shopping centers.

“I didn’t want to retire, so I surfed around for another industry I felt could hold my interest, one in which I felt I was serving the public good,” he says. “Of course, there’s an economic motivation as well.”

He didn’t want high tech, or fashion-oriented, or anything that could be outsourced overseas. “The health club business appealed to me,” Polevoy says. He traveled around the country, doing extensive research. “I found that there was a need for fresh thinking in the health club industry,” he says.

Polevoy felt that the industry could be more receptive to upscale design and other features that would make clubs attractive to people who would normally be intimidated by gyms. “There was nothing that would motivate people to come and work out,” he says.

Only 9 percent of the population belonged to health clubs at the time he started, a figure that now stands at 14 percent. In getting into the industry, he knew “we really had to create an atmosphere that is not intimidating to them.”

For three years Polevoy had been interested in setting up a Can Do in Princeton. Despite the preponderance of clubs in this area — the Princeton Center for Health and Wellness on Route 206 in Montgomery, the RWJ-Hamilton Center for Health and Wellness on Quakerbridge Road, Gold’s Gym on Quakerbridge Road, three New York Sports Clubs, and the Pennington-Ewing Athletic Club — Polevoy believes he can compete.

“Picking the location is a function of where we want to be in the industry,” he says. “I had to differentiate myself, and I felt that I wanted to be on the higher end of the market spectrum, and being on the higher end, I would then be able to fulfill my mission of really being able to offer not only the best in facilities, but also the best in equipment, programming, staffing, et cetera. You have to go into the communities where the demographic is on the higher end than the average. The greater Princeton area is certainly one of the wealthiest demographics in the state, and you also have a tremendous corporate community here.”

In choosing his location, Polevoy weighed the proximity to Route 1, and says that Mack-Cali Realty, the owners of the Forrestal Village complex, wanted to go upscale. “They wanted an anchor tenant who could draw the caliber of clientele that can help support the upscale nature of the place,” he says.

Several months of delays — Can Do began selling memberships in November, 2006 — pushed the club’s opening date from February 15 to July 4. Among reasons for the delay were issues with some of the more exotic accouterments, such as the pools, the hot tub, and the fireplace that greets members in the atrium.

Those who signed up for memberships before the opening received discounts, as is often the case, but individual memberships will ultimately cost a bit more than $100 a month, with an enrollment fee of $299, which has been reduced to $99 as an incentive. There are also monthly packages available for children between 10 and 16 years of age, as well as family memberships and memberships that include martial arts lessons.

“We are not competing with any other facility on price,” Polevoy says. “Other clubs are offering low rates to keep people from coming to our club, but people are coming anyway. Our level of quality is far superior to anyone else. Not only is our facility a lot more appealing and more motivating than the competition, our equipment is a lot better, our staff is much higher level and has better certifications, and we bring them to a higher level once they come here.” Polevoy cites the Pilates certification he requires of his instructors. Can Do sends each of them to a 600-hour course provided by the descendants of the method’s founder, Joseph Pilates.

Polevoy says there are currently about 1,500 Can Do members in his new Forrestal Village facility, and he is expecting about 3,000 people to be signed by the end of the year. The facility can handle 8,500 members. Approximately 70 percent of the membership is projected to be made up of people who live within 15 miles of the facility, and about 30 percent will come from those who work in that radius.

Upscale retail didn’t make it in Forrestal Village, and neither did outlet retail. Offices, however, are flourishing in what was mainly a shopping center two decades ago. It seems entirely possible that a high-end gym might be just thing that denizens of these offices might crave.

All in all, it seems as if the Can Do fitness facility has what it takes to last in a location where businesses have not done well. This humble exerciser has cioncluded that, despite some minor glitches, the place looks promising. I’ve been there just about every day, and that’s going to continue.

CanDo Fitness, 121 Main Street, Princeton Forrestal Village, Princeton 08540. Stuart and Gina Polevoy, owners. 609-514-0500. Fax: 609-514-0058. Home page:

www.candofitness.com

Socker

A lot of people give lip service to the importance of helping teen-agers vault over challenging circumstances to become solid, productive adults. Charlie Inverso, head coach of the Mercer County Community College soccer team, is actually doing the job — one student, and one goal at a time. And it’s not easy.

Inverso is one of the winningest coaches in college soccer. He has racked up an amazing record of 389 wins, versus just 34 losses, over a period of 22 years. His teams have won a number of national titles, and many of his players have gone on star on four-year college teams. Some have even excelled in professional soccer careers.

But Inverso’s job is about much more than coaching his players to victory. Community college soccer, he explains, is often a choice of last resort for students with lots of ball-handling ability, but a dearth of academic skills.

More important to him than his win/loss record, he says, is that fact that at least 135 of his former players, kids who might easily have been left to face the future without soccer and without an education, have gone on to play soccer at elite schools, and have earned four-year degrees.

Inverso is the keynote speaker at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Trade Fair luncheon on Friday, September 7, at noon at the Westin Forrestal Village. Cost: $35. Call 609-924-1776 for reservation or register online at www.princetonchamber.org.

“I would say that most of my players come from referrals from Division I coaches,” says Inverso. He has built solid relationships with many coaches from competitive colleges. He doesn’t want to name all of the schools, but does say that many of his students come to him as referrals from St. Johns, Seton Hall, and Rutgers. The plan is that he will take a promising player, perhaps a guy who is “a little rough around the edges, not the complete package.” His mandate is to return the player in two years, community college diploma in hand, to play at the Division I school. There is no formal agreement, but that is how the system works.

This system is in place because these schools demand that in-coming students — no matter how athletically gifted — meet fairly high academic standards. Added to the schools’ own admission standards are the standards of the NCAA, the organization charged with oversight of intercollegiate sports. The NCAA requires in-coming student athletes at Division I schools to have achieved at least a C average in 13 core subjects in high school and to have achieved respectable SAT scores.

It is Inverso’s task to turn youngsters unable to meet this standard when they catch the eye of a Division I coach into young adults who transfer to a top school. It is an aspect of his job that means he has to be concerned about a lot more than on-the-field strategy. “It’s like eating lobster,” he says. “There’s a lot more cracking open shells than eating the meat.

“People think it’s easy to get a diploma from a two-year school, but it isn’t,” he says. “Kids have to take a core curriculum, two years of English, two of science, and a year of a lab science.” The young people referred to him have struggled with these basics, sometimes because they live abroad, are immigrants, or are the children of immigrants. English is often not his players’ first language.

MCCC’s soccer team roster, while it includes many players from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, also tends to have substantial representation from abroad, and particularly, of late, from Trinidad and Israel.

It falls to Inverso to monitor the academic progress of each of his players, regardless of language barriers. Are they attending classes? Turning in assignments on time? Achieving good grades? Are they getting any tutoring help they may need?

As many of his students do not live near enough to MCCC’s campus to bunk at home, he is also charged with helping them to find apartments. When housing arrangements fall through, it is up to him to scramble to find something that works.

The students’ conduct is also his concern.

“In 22 years there has just been one bad incident,” he says. “It didn’t involve an assault or anything like that, but it was bad. It has never happened again. I’m proud of that.” He attributes his current players’ good off-the-field conduct to careful screening before they are admitted and to on-going monitoring.

Inverso’s own youthful monitoring came from his parents, now deceased. He grew up in Mercerville, where his mother was a stay-at-home mom and his father was an accountant, and “the best kind of sports parent.” Absolutely unathletic himself, the elder Inverso was a huge, but clueless, supporter of his son’s involvement with soccer, which began at about age 10. “He wasn’t one of those pushy parents you see today,” says his son. “He didn’t beat all the fun out of it. He coached my teams, even though I don’t think he even knew how many people were supposed to be on the field. He was always taking me and my friends to professional games. He was great.”

When he entered high school, Inverso briefly abandoned soccer for football, and hesitates for not one second before giving his views on why so many boys abandon the one sport for the other. “It’s about puberty,” he says. “Boys suddenly have all of these new muscles, and they want to try them out. Soccer is a rough sport, but they like the contact of football.”

Inverso, too, might have left soccer behind forever, as so many suburban boys do, but football was not a good fit. “Football players have to be big,” he says. “I was 108 pounds in high school.”

So, it was back to soccer, where he played varsity at Trenton State, and was captain of the team in 1979. He graduated in 1980 with a degree in health and physical education. “I always knew I wanted to be a coach,” he says. His first job was at Princeton University, where he was delighted to be taken on “as sort of an intern” right after he graduated. He remained on the coaching staff there for six years, and vividly recalls being impressed by the young men with whom he worked.

“They were so energetic,” he says, “and so nice. Most of them. They would stay up until 3 a.m. studying, and when they came to practice, they’d still ask ‘how are you? how’s your day going?’”

A modest man, Inverso says that he suspected he didn’t belong in an Ivy League environment. He did apply for the job of head coach at Princeton in 1996, when it became vacant, but says that he is glad that Jim Barlow got the job. “He’s a Princeton graduate. It was a much better fit,” he says. He and Barlow have become good friends, and are working together on a new project that brings excitement to Inverso’s voice, despite the fact that he is exhausted from the 12-hour days he is putting in just before the start of his season.

The pair, along with other volunteers, are busy getting a youth soccer program off the ground in Trenton. The effort, spearheaded by Inverso, is being organized as the Glenn Myernick Foundation. Myernick, who died last October, was “born and raised in Trenton,” says Inverso, and was assistant coach of the United States World Cup team.

“In the United States, soccer is suburban,” says Inverso, “but in the rest of the world it’s urban. There’s no reason that it can’t be urban here too.” He sees no obstacles that can’t be overcome, and has recruited top coaches, including Barlow, to give the Trenton kids a good start. Many of them are already proficient, some drawing on skills they developed before immigrating to this country. Others, he is delighted to find, are natural athletes, who are thrilled to have discovered the sport. Trenton is a test location for the foundation, which Inverso hopes to take national.

A mystery is how Inverso is managing to fit this new project into his schedule. His coaching job at MCCC is officially just part time, despite the fact that it absorbs some 50 hours a week in season, and many hours in every other season. He also works full time as a health and physical education teacher in the Hamilton school system, and coaches on the 15 and under United States soccer team, where his specialty is goal tending. “I tell people I work every day but Christmas,” says Inverso, who is the father of two children, Hailey, age 9, and CJ, age 7. His wife, Lynne Inverso, teaches physical education in East Windsor.

While many of his players are young men sent to him by Division I college coaches, Inverso does keep an eye out for local high school talent. His scouting sometimes takes him to Lawrence High School and to Allentown High School, where the head soccer coach of each team got his start at MCCC before going on to play at a four-year school.

These successes, says Inverso, are what keep him going, are what he thinks about as he prepares for yet another season. He didn’t want high tech, or fashion-oriented, or anything that could be outsourced overseas. “The health club business appealed to me,” Polevoy says. He traveled around the country, doing extensive research. “I found that there was a need for fresh thinking in the health club industry,” he says.

Polevoy felt that the industry could be more receptive to upscale design and other features that would make clubs attractive to people who would normally be intimidated by gyms. “There was nothing that would motivate people to come and work out,” he says.

Only 9 percent of the population belonged to health clubs at the time he started, a figure that now stands at 14 percent. In getting into the industry, he knew “we really had to create an atmosphere that is not intimidating to them.”

For three years Polevoy had been interested in setting up a Can Do in Princeton. Despite the preponderance of clubs in this area — the Princeton Center for Health and Wellness on Route 206 in Montgomery, the RWJ-Hamilton Center for Health and Wellness on Quakerbridge Road, Gold’s Gym on Quakerbridge Road, three New York Sports Clubs, and the Pennington-Ewing Athletic Club — Polevoy believes he can compete.

“Picking the location is a function of where we want to be in the industry,” he says. “I had to differentiate myself, and I felt that I wanted to be on the higher end of the market spectrum, and being on the higher end, I would then be able to fulfill my mission of really being able to offer not only the best in facilities, but also the best in equipment, programming, staffing, et cetera. You have to go into the communities where the demographic is on the higher end than the average. The greater Princeton area is certainly one of the wealthiest demographics in the state, and you also have a tremendous corporate community here.”

In choosing his location, Polevoy weighed the proximity to Route 1, and says that Mack-Cali Realty, the owners of the Forrestal Village complex, wanted to go upscale. “They wanted an anchor tenant who could draw the caliber of clientele that can help support the upscale nature of the place,” he says.

Several months of delays — Can Do began selling memberships in November, 2006 — pushed the club’s opening date from February 15 to July 4. Among reasons for the delay were issues with some of the more exotic accouterments, such as the pools, the hot tub, and the fireplace that greets members in the atrium.

Those who signed up for memberships before the opening received discounts, as is often the case, but individual memberships will ultimately cost a bit more than $100 a month, with an enrollment fee of $299, which has been reduced to $99 as an incentive. There are also monthly packages available for children between 10 and 16 years of age, as well as family memberships and memberships that include martial arts lessons.

“We are not competing with any other facility on price,” Polevoy says. “Other clubs are offering low rates to keep people from coming to our club, but people are coming anyway. Our level of quality is far superior to anyone else. Not only is our facility a lot more appealing and more motivating than the competition, our equipment is a lot better, our staff is much higher level and has better certifications, and we bring them to a higher level once they come here.” Polevoy cites the Pilates certification he requires of his instructors. Can Do sends each of them to a 600-hour course provided by the descendants of the method’s founder, Joseph Pilates.

Polevoy says there are currently about 1,500 Can Do members in his new Forrestal Village facility, and he is expecting about 3,000 people to be signed by the end of the year. The facility can handle 8,500 members. Approximately 70 percent of the membership is projected to be made up of people who live within 15 miles of the facility, and about 30 percent will come from those who work in that radius.

Upscale retail didn’t make it in Forrestal Village, and neither did outlet stores. Offices, however, are flourishing in what was mainly a shopping center two decades ago. It seems possible that a high-end gym might be just thing that denizens of the offices might crave.

All in all, it seems as if the Can Do fitness facility has what it takes to last in a location where businesses have not done well. This humble exerciser has cioncluded that, despite some minor glitches, the place looks promising. I’ve been there just about every day, and that’s going to continue.

CanDo Fitness, 121 Main Street, Princeton Forrestal Village, Princeton 08540. Stuart and Gina Polevoy, owners. 609-514-0500. Fax: 609-514-0058. www.candofitness.com

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