Brookhaven is home to oldest Curves franchise

Published 3:32 pm Monday, January 16, 2023

.BROOKHAVEN — Debbie Smith opened the Brookhaven Curves location on December 30, 1996  at 122 East Monticello Street in Brookhaven. Smith said at the time the national franchise would send someone to a new location to help open it. She went to South Padre Island to train before coming back to open it. 

They told her to expect maybe 50 new members the first week but she felt good about the exercise company. Brookhaven’s Curves opened with 150 members and grew to 575 members in a month. She was the 27th franchise at the time and saw it grow to 10,000 locations across the US. 

Over the past few years they have shrunk in size and dwindled down to about 400 locations globally. Smith was recognized as the oldest active Curves franchise location and celebrates its 26th anniversary this year. 

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“It has been wonderful. It was what I needed to do. It was my purpose to have a fitness center for women only. It was a God thing the way it happened,” Smith said. “A little advertisement came out in the paper. It asked if anyone was interested in opening a franchise called Curves for Women. It was going to be targeted to small towns. At the time, I was teaching Aerobics at First Baptist Church in Brookhaven. I was interested in it and I wanted a change in my life. My husband Mark Smith and I went and talked with the company and within a week bought it.” 

First Baptist Church owns the building where Curves is located. The room’s space is perfect for the business and offers plenty of space for stations spread out across the room and a separate area for stretching. 

Smith said she loves being downtown. 

Curve’s equipment has stayed the same for the past 26 years with the exception of a flatscreen TV on the wall. Weight machines are hydraulic and they have squares for aerobics. Women spend 30 seconds working out at each station and follow the instructions on the TV screen. 

Clean, disco music bounces in the air. Each workout session typically lasts 45 minutes but the time flies with the high energy music. Smith estimates she has seen thousands of women workout at Curves in her 26 years. 

One woman lost 125 pounds by working out there. A lady using the hydraulic weight machines said she had lost about 54 pounds this year. She has come to Curves for about 17 years. 

At one point in time, Smith owned Curves in McComb, Magee and Columbia but running four locations became a bit much. She asked God to bring her back to Brookhaven and she was able to sell it to managers at those Curves locations in a span of seven years. 

To celebrate their 26th anniversary, Smith is offering the first month free when a lady signs up and pays the joining fee. People can also use the Curves on Demand app to digitally work out from home. 

Technology helped the gym during the COVID pandemic in 2020. March 16, 2020 was the day they had to close down. All of the Curves had to close their doors. She brainstormed with her instructors Stefanie Orr, Brandy Cline, Ashley Moore, Nicole Teaster and Sarah Bridge about what to do. 

“We came up with a FaceTime approach. On March 18, 2020, we held a class on our Facebook page. For about three months we would hold class on Monday night, Thursday night and Friday night,” Smith said. “One night we had 350 people work out with Brandy. I was getting notifications every time someone said they had joined. They kept rolling across the screen. It was people from all over the country. It was just crazy and kept me going.” 

Curves opened in person class by May 2020 and lost just six customers in the time. Throughout the pandemic she was able to pay her girls who teach classes. God saw them through the pandemic which was the toughest challenge they faced as a company. 

Smith said fitness centers across Mississippi sent a letter to Governor Tate Reeves asking to be allowed to open. A bill was passed deeming the fitness center essential and they were able to open back up. Robyn Aker helped her open back up and work over the next year to keep Curves germ free. 

Smith said she has stayed COVID free since the pandemic started and plans to continue to run the business. Her sister Katie Farnham helps run the gym and her husband Mark will take care of repairs on the machines.

“I love fitness and I enjoy what I get to do. I couldn’t do it without my helpers,” Smith said. “It has been a blessing. God has certainly had his hand on it. It has been a blessing to me. We are now the only Curves left in Mississippi. My goal one day is to sell it to someone who could keep it going. It could go to one of my daughters if the Lord decides that is best. I don’t want it to not be here.” 

Curves is a women only gym. Anyone who is interested in joining the gym can visit Smith at 122 East Monticello Street in Brookhaven.