LINCOLN SQUARE — Adrienne Farrell worked out at big-box gyms before she had her first child in 2013. She went back to those gyms after becoming a mom — but their child care options weren’t ideal, she realized.
Soon, Farrell was simply working out at home.
But now, after years of planning, Farrell opened Brush Park Gym, 4646 N. Rockwell St., earlier this month, catering to families with young children who want to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle.
Brush Park, right off the Rockwell Brown Line stop, offers cardio equipment, kettlebells, racks and pull-up bars and group fitness classes for grown-ups. For toddlers up to fourth graders, there’s a custom play space with a climbing wall, a magnetic wall and hanging pods. There’s also an outdoor play space, social area and fully stocked, family-friendly bathrooms.
Kids can do supervised active play sessions in the day care with gym staff while their parents work out.
The name of the gym is a hat tip to Detroit, Michigan, where Farrell’s parents and grandparents grew up.
“Brush Park is a name of an old neighborhood there,” Farrell said. “I wanted to signal that this is a neighborhood gym and honor my family and my heritage from that city.”
Farrell has a background in exercise physiology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. After having her son and eschewing the gym, she resorted to doing living room workouts between her son’s naps.
But Farrell realized she couldn’t be the only new parent who saw a lack of child care options at area gyms, so she started asking other parents about their experiences.
While some gyms offered lackluster child care, others didn’t have the option at all. Parents would have take turns working out while the other one watched the kids, Farrell said.
“That was kind of the kicker for me. It was this obvious problem with all the parents I talked to,” she said.
Farrell spent the next few years researching what it would take to open a family-friendly gym that parents like her would enjoy. She had a second son and started looking for suitable spaces in 2018.
When the Rockwell Street space became available, Farrell connected with the owner, got a loan to buy the building and started the years-long process of renovating its first floor into her gym.
The first floor was originally three storefronts, and the buildout involved taking down walls in order to create a large, open space for the gym, as well as installing new storefront glass, pouring a concrete back patio and adding other features.
The permitting process for construction took longer than expected. Once the buildout started, the pandemic hit Chicago, which created supply chain slowdowns. Some of the shortages and lags included delays for climbing wall panels and wood. Farrell even had a hard time acquiring resin and styrofoam at one point, she said.
Farrell did catch a break for one thing on her wish list: Rody Horses came back in stock at a suburban shop.
“I drove out to a toy store in Oak Park and bought all their little Rody Horses, these tiny horses,” Farrell said. “My kids and I walked in there and walked out taking all of them. It was probably a pretty funny scene.”
Farrell offers classes tailored for people of different activity levels. For instance, she recommends parents who haven’t been able to work out regularly after having children take her “reset” class, which involves strength, core and cardio training aimed at restoring mobility.
Personal trainers guide and modify the workouts, Farrell said.
“Instead of investing in all these different workout machines, which can be confusing, I wanted to invest in people who are trained really well to help program and meet everyone’s fitness levels and goals,” Farrell said. “So when my mom walks in, they can design a work out for her or one for a new parent.”
Parents can easily look over during their workout and see their children running around in the play space with coaches.
“We don’t teach them exercises or anything like that. Because for me, that’s just not part of our philosophy,” Farrell said. “We don’t want to teach kids lunges or anything like that. It’s more like, we want kids just to play and incorporate movement while parents are on the other side learning how to move better and increasing their mobility.”
Memberships are $37.50-$47.50 every three months. You must be a member to sign up for the adult fitness classes and the play sessions in the day care.
As Brush Park gets off the ground, Farrell said the overall goal is to help families create active lifestyles together. Fitness routines should be accessible and sustainable for people to build lifelong healthy habits, she said.
“Parents have an incredible amount of things going on that they’re juggling, especially new parents. They’re often at a breaking point, and something usually ends up being given up and usually that’s fitness,” Farrell said. “I’m coming from a perspective of meeting people where they’re at and creating a sense of community so their kids can come.”
Brush Park Gym is open 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. weekends.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: