SALEM — Healthworks, the women-only fitness center at 84 Highland Ave. is closing May 1 after 33 years on the North Shore.
The facility fell victim to a sluggish economy and competition from the huge, gleaming Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA on the Salem/Marblehead line, according to spokeswoman Helene Feeley. The end comes despite a membership list of 800 women.
"It's very sad," she said. "We're very upset. ... We don't want to do this."
Adding to the pain is the fact that this facility marked the start of the Healthworks chain, she said.
Four Boston Healthworks locations will remain open — including two in Dorchester, which are operated as nonprofits, Feeley said.
The Salem staff will be kept on until April 30, according to an email sent to employees by company President Mark Harrington. Until then, normal operating hours will be maintained.
"We welcome any staff interested in transitioning their employment to one of the other Healthworks locations to reach out to us for discussion," he said.
Billing for members either stopped yesterday or will end April 1, depending on whether their last month was paid when they joined, according to Harrington's message.
An effort was launched to find someone interested in buying the club or taking it as a gift, he told employees.
"At this point, we have been unable to locate anyone who meets the landlord's criteria for a viable tenant," he said.
Feeley, who now works at the Chestnut Hill Healthworks, noted that she started at the North Shore operation when it first opened in Danvers on Endicott Street under the name Light and Lively.
Feeley managed the Salem club from 1997 to 2005.
"I got my start there, and I learned so much in that club," she said.
She described it as a high-quality facility offering everything from a sauna to a steam room. Memberships ranged from $43 to $56 per month.
Members and staff associated with the club throughout its 33 years include trainer Patty Pylon.
"She's been a rock," Feeley said.
The club's premise — a place for women to work out without men — was tested early in its history when a man sued to be allowed in. Healthworks joined with similar facilities to fight the lawsuit, Feeley said.
"And we changed the public accommodation laws," she said.
Many women value a segregated space for a variety of reasons, she said. Some don't want to be watched by men as they're working out, or be vulnerable to abusive male partners. Others adhere to religious teachings about modesty.
"We have served tens of thousands of women here," Feeley said. "It's really been a wonderful run, and we're sad that we're not going to be around anymore."
"It is truly a great club, with a fantastic staff," Harrington wrote, "and I will forever have treasured memories of it."