The Richmond Observer – Top Guns aims high for personal fitness in Rockingham

Although Top Guns officially opened last week, owner Rex Crouch Jr. held the official grand opening this past Monday, Jan. 31, which included finger foods, gift cards from other local businesses, and served as a membership drive.

In just the first week, Crouch said more than 100 members had joined.

“We’ve got anything from just your average life fitness person to professional bodybuilders training for different meets,” Crouch said. “We’ve got a variety of people in here.”

Crouch acknowledged that there are already several gyms and fitness centers in town, but said he was “a little old school.”

“I wanted an actual gym … just a gym, not a fitness center, not a health club, just a ground-and-pound kind of gym that I think we lacked in the community,” Crouch said. “It’s something I always wanted to do and figured I didn’t live but once, may as well try it now.”

The name and logo are derived from the 1986 movie “Top Gun,” starring Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer.

“My son is named Maverick, and that’s where Maverick came from was ‘Top Gun” … so as we were going over different names, it just came to me,” Crouch said.

It’s also a kind of play on words, with guns being a slang term for muscles.

But that’s not the only movie reference in the gym.

A “die-hard” fan of the Sylvester Stallone film franchise “Rocky,” Crouch has a few homages to the movies, including a quote from 2006’s “Rocky Balboa”: “It ain’t’ about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Crouch continues to work for his father’s family run forklift business and is in and out of the gym while his wife, Jill, runs the day-to-day operations. If business grows, Crouch said they may hire more employees.

The location, underneath Bold Moves Dance Studio at the corner of East Washington and Lawrence streets downtown, was the original site of Evolution Health Club, owned by Blake Altman.

“That was the thing that sold me,” Crouch said about the site. “When he was here, I worked out here and I loved it. You have no windows, no storefront … I don’t feel like I’m a puppy trying to get a home here. I like the basement dungeon-style location.”

Top Guns is currently the only gym in the downtown area, however there were two prior to the COVID pandemic.

Rockingham Fitness closed in 2020 during the government-imposed shutdown and was not allowed to reopen before the death of owner Judy Cagle. Our Southern recently moved into that building on East Washington Street. Evolution owner Blake Altman also moved Evolution to another location in 2020.

While several women kept pace on the treadmills, many of the men in the gym tested their strength with the weightlifting equipment, including using dumbbells weighing 75-90 pounds — in each hand.

“We’ve got a lot of different, unique pieces (of equipment) you won’t find nowhere else in the county,” Crouch said.

Crouch was approved for a $25,000 economic development loan from the city of Rockingham back in September of 2021.

“The city was very welcoming to me,” Crouch said. “They wanted this back downtown … so they were very excited to have this back.”

The loan is to be paid back over seven years at 4% interest. The gym equipment will be used as collateral.

The loan is through the Urban Development Action Grant fund, a revolving-door loan for economic development. The fund was established after the federal government loaned money to a local industry for expansion in the 1970s. That money was then paid back to the city to use for loans to small businesses.

Evolution, Simply Chic Boutique and Bold Moves Dance Studio were all awarded similar loans in 2016, and Jeanna Cloninger was granted a loan for the purchase of Dairy Queen in 2018.

The 24-hour gym doesn’t deal with contracts and offers membership discounts to veterans, law enforcement and first responders, students and teachers.

Each member also gets a complimentary session with award-winning bodybuilder Tom Cox.

Cox and Jonathan Pope launched FitFluent X, a consulting and online coaching business, on Jan. 1.

Pope has been in the fitness industry for 18 years, including seven years as the director of FirstHealth Fitness. Cox was hired by Pope for his first job in the industry in 2015, around the same time he started competing.

“It’s come full circle,” Cox said about his relationship with Pope going from boss, to mentor, to colleague and now business partner.

This past December, Cox beat out 270 competitors to win the National Physique Committee National Championships Overall Men’s Physique contest.

“We found Rex the perfect person to partner with,” said Cox, who will focus on personal training.


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