SINGAPORE - California Fitness has announced that it will shut down all its outlets here until further notice.
This was revealed in a media statement sent out at 12.03am by its provisional liquidators from recovery firm Ferrier Hodgson. The statement said the outlets, including the ones in Novena and Bugis, were closed with immediate effect because its owner, JV Fitness, lacks the finances to keep them running.
''The Provisional Liquidators will quickly explore options that maybe available to enable the business to operate but for the time being, it is necessary to cease the operations of the fitness centres with immediate effect,'' the statement read.
This follows the abrupt closure of its downtown Republic Plaza branch last Saturday. Since then, scores of members of the gym chain have been seeking refunds.
Some have lodged official complaints with the Small Claims Tribunal or approached the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) in an attempt to recover their membership fees, which, for many of them, run into the thousands. In the four days since the Republic Plaza branch shut, Case received over 100 complaints against the chain.
One 29-year-old member, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chng, decided to take his complaint to the Small Claims Tribunal yesterday. He signed up for a five-year membership and 80 personal training sessions with California Fitness in January. The real estate agent said he stands to lose an estimated $8,000 should these branches also shut their doors.
Yesterday, gym-goers got to work out as usual at the Bugis and Novena branches, but staff remained tight-lipped when asked about future operations.
The mood among some members was sombre. Mr Michael Da Silva, a 26-year-old pilot who worked out at the Bugis branch on Monday, said: ''The atmosphere is really bad. Everyone seems really uncertain of what's going on.''
The sense of uncertainty had been heightened after the chain's Republic Plaza branch was repossessed abruptly after it was unable to pay the rent. All California Fitness outlets in Hong Kong closed last week due to mounting debt.
In Singapore, a Ngee Ann City outlet closed in February.
Yesterday, calls to the management went unanswered. Its main office in Novena Square also seemed deserted during office hours when The StraitsTimes visited yesterday.
A Facebook group, for which Mr Chng acts as an administrator, is exploring ways to ensure that those who paid fees to the gym chain do not lose out. The group has gained more than 580 members in the two days since it was created.
An online petition titled ''Get California Fitness to refund its victims'' - addressed to Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade)-has over 1,000 signatures.
One lawyer, however, cautioned that customers face an uphill battle to secure refunds, in cases where a business goes bust due to financial difficulties. Said Mr Amolat Singh: ''Any assets (that a business has) will go towards paying landlords, the tax authorities or employees before it goes towards refunding the customers.''