VITAL Goes Even Bigger in New York With Latest Gym Acquisition

Steep Rock Bouldering West
One of the two Steep Rock Bouldering gyms―SRB West―newly acquired by VITAL. (Image courtesy of SRB)

VITAL and Steep Rock Bouldering (SRB) recently announced that the two gym brands are “joining forces” in New York City. According to David Sacher, VITAL’s co-founder, the acquisition will “[bring] Steep Rock Bouldering into the VITAL family.”

The first Steep Rock Bouldering gym―SRB East―opened in Manhattan in 2014. There were fewer climbing gyms in New York City at the time, and bouldering gyms were becoming increasingly popular in the US. Michael Cesari, SRB’s owner, says SRB East marked the first commercial bouldering-only gym in the area; other climbing facilities also offered bouldering nearby, but were a long drive away for some climbers.

“I was spending 2 hours to get to and from the gym and expected there were a lot of other people in the same boat for whom that was a prohibitively long commute to do more than twice a week,” Cesari told CBJ. “From that the idea of a real neighborhood gym was born.”

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After SRB’s initial success, Cesari opened a second Manhattan gym around Columbia University three years later―SRB West. But now he is no longer living in the area, which prompted the search for an acquiring partner. Cesari also owns a beer bar in Manhattan and is in the process of opening a new brewery upstate in Ithica. “It just wasn’t compatible with the hands-on role that I think an operator of these smaller gyms needs to play,” said Cesari. Going forward, both gyms will be rebranded under the VITAL name.

“For nearly a decade Steep Rock Bouldering has served the climbers of Manhattan, providing a place to escape the chaos of city life and gather together with friends. SRB has a great community atmosphere and feels similar to VITAL in many ways,” Sacher told CBJ. “Bringing these gyms together allows us to offer more to our members and better support our team.”

rooftop bouldering at Vital Brooklyn by Madelein Chan Stanley
Rooftop climbing at the new VITAL Brooklyn, which opened earlier this year. (Image by Madeleine Chan Stanley, courtesy of VITAL)

Sacher and Cesari first got to know each other when VITAL started working on its new Brooklyn gym. VITAL, which opened its first gym in 2012, is originally based on the West Coast and operates four gyms between California and Washington. In 2018, CBJ reported that VITAL was “going big in New York” when the company announced its plans for a fifth gym―VITAL Brooklyn―which opened earlier this year. Now VITAL is going even bigger in New York City, adding two more gyms from the area and bringing its total to seven.

According to SRB’s website, SRB and VITAL memberships will soon grant access to all locations. SRB East will even be transitioning to a 24-hour-access facility, something VITAL gyms have become known for. SRB West, for its part, is not currently permitted to operate 24/7, since it is situated on a university campus; however, this is still being worked on and 24-hour-access may be able to be added “in a year or two.”

“I am extremely grateful for the hard work and talent of the people on our team. And for the support of our incredible members over the years,” said Sacher. “VITAL places a ton of trust in our members – giving them the keys to the front door. And it is wonderful to see this trust validated year after year. I am excited to continue to provide even more people with a place they can go to challenge themselves, find friends, and feel at home.”

Harness Consulting