New Gym Is a Chain, Run By a Local

photo(65)Daniel Maurer David Palau oversees the pit.

The gym on 14th Street that was once Dolphin Fitness and then Citi Fitness and then Pure Fitness has reopened as Synergy Fitness. The chain has locations around the city, but the supervisor at this one, between Second and Third Avenues, knows the East Village intimately. He was born in the neighborhood. Now he’s working on a block that his parents forbade him from going down as a child.

“I remember when it was really shabby,” said David Palau, 45. “They sold drugs and there were hookers, even in the daytime.” Mr. Palau, who now lives in Bensonhurst, grew up taking swimming lessons at the 14th Street Y (a block from his current workplace), playing softball in Tompkins Square Park, playing hockey across from Pier 63, and bowling at Bowlmor Lanes. (He remembers Bowlmor “before it was pretty,” when “two guys from Avenue B” robbed an employee by dropping a bowling ball on his head.)

These days, Mr. Palau’s brand of recreation is a bit different: after Synergy refurbished from top to bottom, it will offer classes in yoga, zumba, and pilates. The upstairs space (formerly an aerobics area) is currently being remodeled to accommodate boxing lessons and cardio equipment, and the basement “pit” will eventually host Olympic-style weightlifting lessons and competitions.

But first, the carpets need to be ripped out. “I don’t know what the hell these guys were thinking, carpeting a gym,” said Mr. Palau. “I don’t know where their heads were. I guess that’s why they didn’t make no money.”

photo(67)Daniel Maurer

That kind of candor is typical of the fast-talking New Yorker. During a conversation at the gym yesterday, he answered calls from business associates and from his mother, a receptionist for Major League Baseball who still lives at Village View, where Mr. Palau grew up.

His father, who was 22 years older than his wife, owned Raymond Coiffure, an eponymous hair salon on St. Marks Place, as well as the building on Second Avenue that now houses Thirsty Scholar. About thirty-five years ago, he was given the chance to open the McDonald’s that remains on First Avenue. But it didn’t work out. “My father was so concerned about what people from the synagogue were going to say,” recalled Mr. Palau, who grew up attending the Sixth Street Community Synagogue. “He’s Jewish, and it’s not kosher.”

Mr. Palau remembered the Mitchell-Lama coop fondly. “We were on the 11th floor and we had a beautiful view,” he said. “I used to see the Twin Towers from my terrace and I could see the Empire State Building.”

Those days, he said, the development’s residents were a “tight crew.” “People from Avenue D and C, where it was lot more rough, when they used to rob someone they used to run through our complex,” he said. “We used to stop them and beat the [hell] out of them, and they used to give back the purse to the lady, or the cops would come and take them away.”

Mr. Palau’s oldest son still lives in the complex, but the neighborhood, of course, has changed. With a high-profile luxury condo headed for East 14th Street, the area around Synergy is bound to change as well. “You’re going to get more of these corps – these franchises like 7-Eleven,” Mr. Palau predicted, pointing across the street.

And if the owners of Synergy have their way, they’ll take over the storefronts on either side of the gym and expand into them. “We’re just waiting for them to go out of business,” Mr. Palau said of his current neighbors, with a chuckle.