Fusion Fitness closing its doors
DeCaire looks toward next chapter
When Nic DeCaire closes the doors at Fusion Fitness for the final time tonight, there won’t be much fanfare.
DeCaire plans to go watch his daughter perform at Winterfest with her dance troupe and then head back to the Market East Plaza gym, announce a “last call” for using the exercise machines and turn off the lights for good.
“We’ll come back here at 8 o’clock, lock the door, pop a bottle of Champagne and call it a day,” DeCaire said. “I opened the doors myself the first day and I’ll close them that night myself.”
DeCaire surprised many of his longtime customers last week when he announced Fusion would close after nearly 13 years. However, the closure has been a long time coming, he said in an interview last week.
Closing the gym will allow him to focus on his other business, Fusion Racing, as well as spend more time with his wife and two young daughters.
Running the gym was a seven-day-a-week job and caused him to miss out on family time, DeCaire, 38, said.
“You start to evaluate your life and is this really worth it,” he said. “You know, at the end of the day, is work really worth that much to me?”
That self-reflection came after a sad year for DeCaire, who lost two close friends – Meredith Chapman, the well-known former University of Delaware official who was murdered in April, and Chris Pepe, a former Fusion employee who died unexpectedly in August.
“When that stuff starts to happen around you, and these people are younger than you and healthier, you start to go, ‘What’s my time? Maybe I need to slow down because I’m missing stuff,’” he said.
A secondary factor was the looming construction project on Main Street, which business owners worry will keep customers away.
“When I knew that was going on. I said, ‘Do I really want to put myself through 18 months of construction here?’” he said.
DeCaire quietly put the gym on the market a few months ago, but after potential buyers fell through, he decided to close.
“It’s been an amazing 13 years,” he said. “But at the same time, I want my next 20 years of whatever I do to be amazing.” Humble beginnings
DeCaire, then 25, opened Fusion Fitness in 2006 – scraping together his life savings to buy equipment and building out the gym himself – with the intent of helping change other peoples’ lives like fitness changed his own life.
At age 14, DeCaire was overweight. Inspired by his sister’s boyfriend, he took up weightlifting and quickly realized he excelled at the sport. By age 17, he was competing in national tournaments, and his success at lifting gave him confidence.
After graduating from St. Mark’s High School, DeCaire enrolled at the University of Delaware, where he attempted to take classes while also working as a personal trainer and a professional body builder. After two years, he dropped out to focus on work.
He spent a few years working at High Energy, a gym on South Chapel Street, and eventually completed his degree at Wilmington University. However, when High Energy closed, he was left at a crossroads: go to work for the family business selling insurance or open his own gym.
Choosing the latter option, DeCaire moved back in with his parents, sold his house and used the money to open the gym. He and two friends worked 14-hour days for three months building the gym. By the time it opened, DeCaire had only $300 to his name.
A philanthropic force
Over the years, Fusion cultivated a loyal, tight-knit customer base and developed a reputation as a philanthropic force in Newark, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities.
Fusion’s philanthropic efforts began with a conversation DeCaire had with Sgt. Greg D’Elia, a Newark police officer who worked out at the gym.
DeCaire was looking for an opportunity to sponsor an event as a way to promote his business, and D’Elia told him that NPD’s fledgling K-9 program was looking for funding.
Fusion held its first event, the Main Street Mile, in the fall of 2006, just a few months after opening. The race raised money for the K-9 program and kicked off a years-long effort by the gym to support the police dogs.
DeCaire later branched out into supporting other charitable efforts, most notably helping found Preston’s Playground, the $500,000 handicapped-accessible playground that opened at the Newark Reservoir last week. The next chapter
Fusion Racing started as a side project when DeCaire began organizing the annual Main Street Mile runs.
He formalized the company three years ago and now organizes more than 70 races a year. Many have creative themes – like Saturday’s Santa Cause 5K, when many runners will don Santa hats and beards – and nearly all of them include an afterparty at a local restaurant with food, alcohol and live music.
“We’re putting on a production, not just timing a 5K,” DeCaire said.
With the gym closing, DeCaire looks forward to dedicating more time to Fusion Racing and working on growing the company’s events. His race timing work is more flexible than running a brick-and-mortar gym, allowing him to spend more time with family, he said.
For each race, DeCaire chooses one or more charities to receive part of the proceeds, meaning his philanthropic efforts will continue.
“I’m just transitioning my love of community and helping from one business to another one,” he said.
He hopes that the familylike atmosphere he strived to create at Fusion Fitness will live on through the racing company.
“Fusion is not these four walls, you know, we’re not confined by these four walls,” he said. “It’s so much bigger than that.”
Though closing the gym is bittersweet, DeCaire is eagerly awaiting his next step.
“The biggest thing for me is not that we closed the door, but it was we just closed this chapter,” he said. “And I’m ready for the next chapter. Chapter two is going to be even better.”
Nic DeCaire – seen here opening the accessible playground he helped found – is closing Fusion Fitness but will continue running his other company, Fusion Racing.