ALBANY, N.Y. - When Ann Lawson strolls into her neighborhood grocery store, she really gets a workout.
That's because her Hannaford supermarket has a small gym located just past the pharmacy counter. It has treadmills, stationary bicycles, various other cardio machines, even a state-of-the-art Zumba room with a shiny wooden floor.
And best of all — it's free.
"It's about me getting healthy and losing some of this excess weight," Lawson said. "And I like the idea of being able to work out and shop in one trip."
Maine-based Hannaford insists the 5,600-square-foot health facility that opened in October is not part of some shrewd marketing campaign. The Albany store is the only one in the 184-store chain with such a gym, and there are no plans for more.
The idea grew out of a meeting last summer between Hannaford, the local YMCA and the health care provider Capital District Physicians' Health Plan. All said their goal was to come up with something to improve the area's health while also being convenient, accessible and free.
The store had the extra space after a recent remodeling, and the Healthy Living Center was born with a goal to target obesity and diabetes.
"It's been a natural partnership," said Nancy Gildersleeve, director of healthy living for the Capital District YMCA. "This was perfect for our community. We have got to partner to prevent these chronic diseases."
The center has a personal trainer provided by the YMCA, a health care associate from CDPHP to answer questions and enroll new customers, and a Hannaford-registered dietitian to offer advice on healthy eating.
"This is really a first step for people that have never felt that connection and support," said Gildersleeve, who notes that the YMCA has no other such partnership in the country. "This has become a community center. People meet folks just like them."
Store manager Dave Farrell, an admitted "exercise fool" who has dropped 86 pounds in the last year, said gym goers don't have to shop in the store — they just fill out paperwork on the first visit and are given fobs to swipe when they stop by.
So far, just over 1,100 people have signed up, and the exercise classes are packed.
"Obviously, we've had people use it who weren't customers and have decided to shop in the store," Farrell said. "It's definitely a win for us, but that wasn't the goal."
Harry Balzer of the NPD Group, a Chicago-based consumer marketing research firm, thinks it's a pretty good idea.
"All of us eat and 63 percent of us say we exercise on a weekly basis," Balzer said. "I have a ready and willing market with six out of 10 people who walk in the door, but the point that's most salient is free. I know of nothing that will change your behavior faster than money. Will it last? That's the question."
Margaret Deese, a Hannaford gym regular who doesn't shop at the store and also has a membership at Planet Fitness, says she likes the concept, in part because of the camaraderie.
"This is wonderful," she said. "It should be in every grocery store, wherever there's a need."