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    Tuesday, November 28, 2023

    Lyme Shores' new owner to sharpen facility's focus — on tennis and pickleball

    Members at Lyme Shores work on their tennis game Wednesday, June 15 ,2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    East Lyme — Nearly 41 years ago, a group of tennis-playing locals saved the Lymes Racquet Club.

    Pooling their resources, the partners formed Lymes Associates and bought the Colton Road business for $815,000, then started making improvements aimed at stemming a decline in club membership.

    A year later, they put in a pool for another $90,000.

    Fitness equipment followed, and the sign at the street soon would say: “Lyme Shores Tennis & Conditioning Center.”

    For not much longer.

    On Friday, EKM Sports Inc., owner of the South Bend Racquet Club in Indiana and interested in purchasing other tennis clubs around the country, expects to close on its purchase of the Colton Road property, which EKM intends to rechristen as Lyme Shores Racquet Club.

    Most of the exercise equipment — treadmills, rowing machines, benches and dumbbells — already have been donated to East Lyme High School, according to Juan Maldonado, whom EKM Sports has installed as Lyme Shores’ general manager.

    Lyme Shores’ selling price was not disclosed. The property was appraised last year at $1.43 million, land records show.

    In an interview Wednesday, Maldonado said EKM Sports’ president, Eric Moore, intends to model Lyme Shores after the South Bend facility Moore acquired in 1997. Lyme Shores will focus on tennis and badminton-like pickleball, which Maldonado referred to as “the fastest growing sport in America.”

    East Lyme pickleball enthusiasts recently petitioned town officials over the lack of outdoor pickleball courts.

    Moore announced in a post on Lyme Shores' website that he plans to make a substantial investment in the property over the next two years. Planned upgrades include increased lighting and resurfacing of the club’s six indoor tennis courts, as well as an evaluation of whether to add air conditioning to them. Eventually, all nine of the club's tennis courts — it has three outdoors — will be lined for pickleball as well as tennis.

    A new lounge and a pro shop selling tennis and pickleball apparel and gear will replace the fitness area.

    Moore informed Lyme Shores members that the decision to discontinue the fitness component of the business was driven by “economic issues.” Fitness members’ dues will be refunded.

    Many tennis clubs like Lyme Shores initially pursued the fitness route in the 1980s, Maldonado said, and gradually have relinquished it to outlets like Planet Fitness.

    Tennis, meanwhile, reached the height of its popularity in the 1990s and 2000s, according to Joe Kiah, a Lymes Associates partner, who said Lyme Shores’ total membership peaked at about 600 members during the period, including about 150 fitness members. He said tennis is now making a comeback.

    “During COVID-19, it was the only sport parents would let their kids play,” Kiah said.

    Lyme Shores closed for six months amid the pandemic and wouldn’t have survived without a government loan, Kiah said. Since then, the club’s junior tennis program enjoyed its highest enrollment ever last summer and expects another good season this year.

    Currently, Lyme Shores’ membership numbers about 150, most of whom are over 50 years of age.

    “Definitely, we can double it,” Maldonado said of membership, citing the anticipated effect of renovations and the appeal of pickleball, which he said has a “very sociable” aspect. Played in an area half the size of a tennis court, it’s not as physically demanding as tennis, he said.

    Lyme Shores will seek to increase memberships among those 40 years old and younger and people living outside the Lymes — East Lyme, Old Lyme and Lyme.

    “Our goal is to be the epicenter of tennis and pickleball in the area,” Maldonado said.

    According to Kiah, nonmembers have at times provided as much as 40% of Lyme Shores’ annual revenue, paying per-visit rates that are higher than those members pay.

    Kiah, who recalled Lyme Shores had a restaurant and a bar in its early days, began searching online last year for a potential buyer. At the same time, Moore had posted his interest in acquiring an existing tennis facility. Communications that led to the Lyme Shores’ transaction began in September.

    “We felt a loyalty to the membership to keep it going rather than sell it as a commercial property to be turned into a warehouse or something,” Kiah said.

    He recalled that Lymes Associates — “a bunch of tennis players” — had a similar motivation when they acquired the business in 1981. He said people like George Ulrich, a former general manager and tennis director emeritus; Andre Danford, general manager of facilities; and Theresa Pearl, a former general manager and current business manager, have kept Lyme Shores going.

    Now it’s in EKM Sports’ hands.

    “These guys are professional tennis operators with a proven record of success,” Kiah said. “This is the best thing for the future of tennis in this area. They’re going to make it much better.”


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