Sportrock Climbing Centers
Specs: Sportrock Climbing Centers, a DC-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area climbing gym operator, recently announced a planned expansion into Gaithersburg, Maryland. According to Jeffrey Shor, the Director of Marketing at Sportrock, the founders of Sportrock met while training at one of the original indoor climbing walls in the U.S., affectionately known as Zich’s Garage. Zich’s parents allowed their son Steve to talk them into letting him and his friends cover their detached garage in Chevy Chase with plywood and glue-on rocks to create a low-tech climbing wall for training during the damp D.C.-area winters. Eventually the glue was replaced with t-nuts, the rocks with early climbing holds, and the climbers started establishing first ascents at the New River Gorge and other nearby crags. “The demand outgrew the space,” Sportrock’s website details, leading to the opening of the first Sportrock location in Rockville, Maryland, in 1994.
Although expansion wasn’t the operators’ original goal, Sportrock eventually opened additional gyms in the neighboring Virginia suburbs of Alexandria and Sterling, and those facilities have both been expanded multiple times. In 2006, the original Rockville location closed when Sportrock lost the lease. Since the closure, the business has been looking for a suitable Maryland location. With a planned opening of the Gaithersburg location at the end of 2023, the owners see coming back to Maryland “as a full circle moment,” Shor said.
The 50,000-square-foot Gaithersburg facility will be mixed-discipline, like the Sterling and Alexandria facilities, and will feature 55-foot roped walls and 15,000 square feet of bouldering surface. Built in the Rio Lakefront Shopping Center, the gym will be retrofitted to a former sports hall. A training board, fitness equipment and climbing options will be built over former basketball and racquetball courts, and some of the boulders will be built inside a drained Olympic swimming pool. “It’s such a cool thing to walk into a space knowing it used to be something else and that the climbing has been seamlessly integrated into the space while still referencing what it used to be,” Shor said. “We’re leaving up some of the old pool tiles, and we’ll play on some of the ‘no diving’ signage. These elements that allude to what the place used to be and build upon the story is something we’re really excited about.”
Moving forward since the COVID-related closures, Shor described Sportrock as committed to opening a new location, and the Rio Lakefront Shopping Center—a mixed-use retail space that has natural foot traffic and ample parking—fit the bill. “Sportrock has an active pipeline for new locations, and we are incredibly focused on solidifying our footprint in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area,” Shor stated. “It’s where we want to stay and build a strong position to set the company up to sustain itself for the long term. And we have an active pipeline for new locations beyond Rio.”
Shor said Sportrock’s nearly 30 years of operation has been guided by the company’s four pillars they call its “R.O.C.K”—routesetting, originality, community and knowledge—and a big part of the first pillar has been investing in the gym’s routesetting team. Vice President of Facilities & Routesetting Jeremy Hardin, for example, is a USAC L5 setter with experience setting national and international championship events, and he recently chiefed a 2023 Open Bouldering Nationals event. The gym also just signed Jeremy Ho to their setting team, another renowned L5 routesetter. “All of the decision making in the company comes back to those cornerstones,” Shor summarized. He encouraged gym owners, especially those newer to the industry, to “decide what their values are, move towards those values, and use those values to inform decision making.”
CRM Software: RGP
In Their Words: “Since I became President in 2005, Sportrock has not deviated from who we are: climbing gyms For Climbers, By Climbers. We stay true to who we are—the local climbing gym focused on great routesetting, authenticity, a community orientation, and a place for climbers to practice, train and develop their skills as rock climbers—and we always will. We’re active members in our communities, we climb at our gyms, and it’s a palpable sense that you get walking through the facilities and being part of the communities.” – Lillian Chao-Quinlan, Executive Chairperson of Sportrock’s Board of Directors
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