Thorbeckes Wellness Center is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. For owner Matt Noren, 39, that meant a chance for celebration after a difficult couple of years dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It took me two or three years just to get an idea of what I was actually doing,” said Noren who bought Thorbeckes from Dale Pullin in 2017. “Just about the time I figured out what I was doing, COVID hit.”
Among the many regulations handed down by the state was the temporary closure and restricted use of gyms.
“Before the pandemic, at least 10% of the whole county had a membership,” according to Noren, who also said that over 25% of members left when the lockdown began. But Noren said the community helped get them through the difficulties of the pandemic.
“I fully believe that were we not in Lewis County we would have gone under. I didn’t really get the amount of community support until COVID hit,” Noren said.
“A lot of people were really sad that we had to shut down when COVID started because this isn’t just a place to work out. Many people are here to clear their mind, to socialize, destress or just knowing that if they are here, they aren’t doing something that they shouldn’t be doing,” said Noren.
Thorbeckes, which closed on March 17, 2020, and reopened over two months later on May 26, managed to open back up to customers by moving equipment outside.
“We had to use a reservation system,” said Noren, who thought the reservation system was difficult but had the benefit of giving members the opportunity to return to the gym.
“We’ve grown every month since we reopened. By the end of the year we will be back where we were, if not more,” he said.
Noren says that the lockdown presented some unexpected challenges. For one thing, where to turn off the lights.
“We didn’t know how to turn off the lights for Centralia when the pandemic started,” he said, “Centralia is open 24 hours a day so the lights had never needed to be turned off.”
He said they looked everywhere in the building but couldn’t find the switch. He even called Pullin to find out if he knew where the light switch was.
“We still haven’t found the light switch,” Noren said. “We had to turn off the breaker.”
Noren said he still speaks with Pullin often.
“I consult with him (Pullin) regularly, a few times a month, especially during COVID … I had a big decision to make during COVID and he helped me through it and helped me avoid making a mistake,” he said.
But the pandemic also presented opportunities for growth.
Since the lockdown started, Thorbeckes has put a lot of resources into improving its aquatics area.
“During the pandemic and over the past two years, we have focused most of our energy and renovations on the pool in Centralia. We have recently begun an outdoor project where the putt-putt course used to be outside of the pool. This open space is being tailored with a similar style to Penny Playground, and will have yard games, picnic tables, grass and will be a fun outdoor space to enjoy with friends or family. It is going to really bring another element to visiting the pool,” Noren said.
“We were able to do a lot of remodeling we could not have done while open,” Noren added. “We redid all the cardio upstairs and replaced the machines in Chehalis and used the old stuff to open a new gym in South Bend.”
For Noren, Thorbeckes’ expansion has been a continuation of a longtime commitment he’s had to the area.
Originally from Raymond, Noren has lived in Chehalis since 2009. Noren, who graduated from Willapa Valley High School in 2001 before attending Western Washington University, moved to Chehalis from Olympia with his then girlfriend, and now wife, Andrea, with a desire to live in a small town.
Noren started a medical staffing company in 2010 that specialized in hiring and placing nurses in correctional facilities. After a few years of running his staffing business, he saw that one of the locations next to Thorbeckes was up for lease. Noren leased the location from Pullin and started Pacific Sports Spa, which he continues to own. After a couple of years leasing the location, Pullin approached Noren to see if he was interested in buying Thorbeckes.
Pullin wanted to retire and had always wanted to sell to someone local who would keep Thorbeckes as a local business, Noren said.
Buying Thorbeckes from Pullin was a perfect opportunity for Noren. While growing up, he had been involved in Sun League, a church-run youth basketball league.
“As a fifth and sixth grader, we would come over from Pacific County to play at the Centralia Thorbeckes,” Noren said, fondly remembering his first experience with the company. “We didn’t have anything like that in Pacific County, so we would drive all the way over here.”
And there was a personal connection as well through Kathy Pullin, Dale Pullin’s wife. Kathy Pullin’s mom was a school bus driver for Noren’s school district and lived across the street from his childhood best friend’s house. Noren ended up leaping at the opportunity to buy Thorbeckes. He sold his medical staffing company to help finance the sale and took over on Halloween 2017.
As for what’s in store for Thorbeckes’ future, Noren said he’s looking at a potential expansion.
“I would love to have another location in east county,” said Noren, who added, “It’s actually cheaper to open a new location than to store our old equipment,” referring to old equipment the company currently has in storage.
“Our next goal is to get something out there for sure,” he said
Noren added that one casualty of the pandemic was Thorbeckes’ Rochester branch, but he hopes to bring it back if possible.
“I’d love to have something out there again too,” he said.
In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Thorbeckes will be having a series of events throughout the week for members. Learn more about the business at https://thorbeckes.com/.