For three years, Jennie Brooks trained her loyal clients in a less than ideal space. It was an old warehouse in downtown Charleston that had been transformed into a makeshift gym. The space had minimal flooring, no air conditioning, and mosquitoes galore.
She was preparing to open her business, Longevity Fitness Charleston, a holistic fitness and wellness center in downtown Charleston that eschews the one-size-fits all approach to health. She knew exactly what she wanted Longevity to look and feel like, but finding the perfect space to house it was a different story.
Finally, after searching high and low for three years, she found her dream location then put almost a year of work into the design transformation of it. Now, a year after her grand opening, Longevity Fitness Charleston looks like a high-end spa you might find in California. Bright sunlight streams through every window that wraps around the entire penthouse space, reflecting off of the clean, white, calming decor. Bottles of cold pressed juices sit in a fridge next to the front desk, where a cheerful employee wearing a Longevity Fitness shirt greets guests as they enter. In the opposite corner, there is retail athleisure available such as “Sweat Therapy” gear, which is one of Jennie’s signature classes created just for LFC. Also available are scented candles that Jennie personally selected and reflect the bright, welcoming, serene feel of LFC. Along the long gallery wall that leads to the private dressing rooms, spa showers, and wellness treatment room, there are over-sized framed photographs of Jennie’s founding members — the loyal group who has been with her since the beginning.
The entrepreneurial itch
Fitness has always been a part of Jennie Brooks’ life. Growing up in Charleston, SC, her first home was a hotel, since her father was a hotel developer. Her parents ran marathons and traveled for their races. Jennie’s mother juggled taking care of her children, a career, and marathon running. Sports and athletic activities were a large part of Jennie’s childhood. She danced, was a runner, and rode horses.
“We spent a lot of childhood vacations traveling around to different races across the country, always positioned at the finish line. We started to really admire and enjoy being a part of their achievements. I was always active — I did sports, danced, rode horses — I just love the ability to set a goal for myself and work really hard to achieve it.”
When she arrived at Rollins College in Florida, she continued to run and dance, and even taught dance lessons in Florence, Italy, during her study abroad program. A few years after graduating, Jennie moved to Los Angeles, joining Twentieth Century Fox as a publicist. At that time, she was only coaching running on the side.
“I carried on with dancing and running through college but took a bit of a different path after I graduated and went into the international publicity field. But I was coaching running on the side and over time, I realized that I loved working with people and training them, so I decided to make that my career.”
Jennie did not fully begin her journey in the professional world of fitness until she moved to San Francisco. John F. Kennedy University has a master’s program in Holistic Health Education, and Jennie wanted to learn how to share her insights about health and wellness with others full-time, so she began that journey in 2006.
While in San Francisco, Jennie trained in Pilates from master teachers, working with predominantly older clients on their health and fitness. She began to notice troubling patterns in people aged 50 and above — the same muscle problems, alignment issues, and inhibitions in the body. Jennie knows these conditions are preventable, if people are educated earlier in life how to take care of themselves. This further motivated her to dedicating her career to teaching others how to achieve Longevity in life. She also sought a holistic approach to doing it.
Launching her business
Jennie moved back to her hometown of Charleston in 2009 and began personal training in a traditional gym setting. She harnessed the power of a number of different exercise styles and techniques to give her clients the best workout for their particular needs. But that kind of setting was not up to par with Jennie’s vision of holistic health and wellness, and eventually, her clients encouraged her dream of starting her own business.
Jennie began to put plans in motion and estimated that within one year, she would open the doors to her new business. In the meantime, she trained clients in a warehouse that Jennie herself jokingly describes as “rustic.” The only problem was that it took her three times as long to start the business as she thought it would.
Finding a space that could encompass her vision of a holistic wellness center with different treatments all held under one roof proved to be very challenging. At the request of her clients, Jennie needed to keep the business in downtown Charleston — which is not an easy place to find real estate. Every time she thought she found the right space, a developer would come in and buy the space she loved.
After a sleepless night of online real-estate searching, Jennie found the Penthouse of 163 Rutledge Avenue. At first glance, it appeared out of her price range, but the building’s wrap around windows and expansive outdoor terrace beckoned her to take a look. The moment she stepped off of the elevator, she knew she had found a home for her business. However, a couple of weeks after submitting her letter of intent, she heard the familiar response that an out-of-state company wanted to come in and buy the building. She was losing hope but didn’t give up. She set out looking again but a few weeks later, the building manager contacted her to say the deal had fallen through, and the lease was hers to sign if she still wanted it. The moment the agreement had been solidified, she knew her dream was finally real.
After a single celebratory dinner, she went to work with her project manager, who Jennie says was instrumental in her success.
“I found a project manager who was very experienced and knew exactly how to build a business from the ground, but still allowed me to make the decisions and create the business exactly how I wanted it.”
A year after opening Longevity Fitness Charleston, things are humming. We asked Jennie if she’d do it all over again knowing what it takes.
“If you asked me when I started, I would say no. But now… I’m already thinking about ways to branch out and expand Longevity Fitness even further into the world.”
Jennie Brooks had a vision and brought it to life. Her advice to other entrepreneurs? Have faith. Visualize your dream. If you want to make it happen, it will happen.