Sue Graham, far right, bought the Curves in Waterbury shortly after Tropical Storm Irene nearly forced its closure.

She has seen membership steadily increase since then.

Owner Sue Graham has helped revive business since Irene nearly shut it down

Though the Curves in Waterbury was spared the devastating flooding that Tropical Storm Irene wrought in August 2011, the storm’s impact on the exercise center was profound.

The displacement of workers from the Waterbury State Office Complex led to a sharp drop in clientele at Curves. The business lost about a third of its enrolled members after the storm, dipping from around 90 to about 60. Shortly after the storm hit, former Curves owner Ruth Elzey announced she was planning to shut the business down.

Sue Graham of Waterbury was determined not to let that happen.

Graham, 62, bought the local branch of Curves in January 2012 and made sure the business did not close. Since then, membership has rebounded, exceeding pre-Irene totals this spring. And she hopes to continue growing the business.

By the time Irene hit, Graham had been a member of Curves for about four years. She started working out at Curves after a car accident in 1999 left her in constant pain and unable to move her neck, forcing her to quit her job as a dental hygienist. When a friend suggested strength training to alleviate the pain, Graham started spending time at Curves. Her training there has made a world of difference, she said recently.

Graham started working at Curves in November 2011 and bought the local branch the following January, less than five months after Irene. She faced an uphill battle bringing people back to the exercise center, located beside the Waterbury Congregational Church on North Main Street.

“Getting the word out to people has been my biggest challenge,” Graham said. “Trying to let people know that we’re here and thriving, especially when I’m here all the time and can’t get out there to spread the word is hard.”

Graham puts in long days, often working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Word of mouth, she said, has been the biggest help in boosting enrollment. She’s also tried to institute a new, more upbeat and fun atmosphere at the business.

Bit by bit, her work has paid off. In May, membership at Curves climbed to 100. The members are of all ages, with the largest percentage in their 40s and 50s. The oldest member is 83. But Graham is hoping to attract a younger clientele, as well.

“This club is not just for old ladies. I used to think it was before I started going, but you work hard,” she said.

She took it as an encouraging sign that a number of high school students came in this spring to get toned up for sports and prom time. She hopes to work with the high school in the future to get more young athletes visiting the center.

Becky Chadwick, who has been a member at Curves since before it changed hands, credits Graham for turning the business around when it was on the verge of closure.

“She lost all of her state employee members when Waterbury was flooded and has worked really hard to bring the membership up so she can stay in business,” Chadwick said in an email.

Waterbury resident Susan Seymour agreed.

“I feel Sue stepped in and saved Curves, and her positive attitude really makes Curves a place women enjoy coming to,” Seymour said in an email.

Seymour started exercising at Curves at her mother’s suggestion following her battle with cancer.

“I needed something to build me back up after chemo and radiation,” she said. “Now, seven years later, I feel that I have maintained my weight and feel good and I enjoy the friendships I’ve made along the way.”

It’s that sort of validation that makes Graham proud to have kept Curves going. In the nearly two years since Irene, she has watched women support each other through difficult times.

“The community of women and the support they give each other is the most rewarding part — that and helping women to get stronger and healthier,” Graham said.

“My passion is for helping women,” she added.

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