IF YOU WERE TASKED TO IMAGINE A FITNESS CENTER FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, one that was quintessentially Charleston, how would it look? Definitely a blend of old and new. A property in the heart of the historic district with centuries-old homes for neighbors. Contemporary. Lots of brick and glass and light pouring in through floor-to-ceiling windows. A penthouse studio for sweeping rooftop views. Wraparound terraces, flush with fauna, for sunrise vigils and sunset socials. A top-flight professional staff who reflect the best of Southern hospitality. That was how owner Jennie Brooks imagined Longevity Fitness—with a kiss of lavender in the air.
“My vision was to blend hospitality and wellness offerings into one place,” explains Brooks, a Charleston native and world-class instructor. That’s the kind of trend we’re seeing—true customer care that’s been lacking in the fitness business.”
The Ashley Hall alumna grew up immersed in both industries. Her father, Eric Brooks, is a former general manager of renowned downtown properties, The Mills House and Planters Inn, and the Tremont Hotel Chicago.
“Both my mother, Benita Shaw, and stepfather were celebrity runners in the Cooper River Bridge Run. I ran track in college,” says Brooks.
Family vacations spent abroad reinforced the food-fitness connection. “I grew up going to Italy for the summer through my high school years,” Brooks adds. “I fell in love with the country and cuisine and made it a goal to study there.”
When an opportunity arose for a guest fitness instructor in Tuscany, Italy’s renowned cultural and agritourism region, Brooks signed up. “It was a retreat in a small farmhouse with a culinary school on the property,” she recalls. “I taught clients from all over the world—we all spoke the same language, that of food and movement.”
Back in the States, Brooks did a stint in entertainment public relations while coaching runners on the West Coast before realizing that fitness was really her passion. She returned to school for a master’s degree in holistic health education, specializing in nutrition and sports performance. She also earned Pilates certification, apprenticing under Nora St. John, a veteran instructor and education program director at Balanced Body in Sacramento, California.
Brooks shares her unique sensibilities and experience teaching a variety of group classes, including Pilates, A.B.A. and TRX, and leading the Pilates Teacher Certification Program at Longevity Fitness. She is also a Master Educator for Balanced Body and presides over a staff of fitness professionals who bring to bear advanced-level certifications in Pilates, personal training, yoga, stretch therapy and massage therapy.
Inside the fitness center, sleek, pristine studios exude a Zen-like quality with minimalist design, a cool white palette and custom lighting. Cutting-edge equipment includes TechnoGym cardio, Cybex strength and Omnia functional training units. Air purifiers stationed throughout the studios are those used by NASA, as is the microcide for equipment cleansing.
“One of the things I’m most proud of,” shares Brooks, “is that when members come off the elevator, the first thing they say stepping into the reception lobby is,
‘Wow, this place smells so good.’ I was really focused on pleasing the senses—smells, textures of fabrics, the music—I want everyone to feel very cared for.”
One-of-a-kind décor throughout the club and penthouse reflects strong family ties: original handcrafted furniture from brother Eric’s Sullivan’s Island-based Brooks Custom Woodworks. A beautifully shot black-and-white photo of Brooks’ young son and one of her with her mom, the Longevity member services coordinator, are blown up and framed, brightening the walls.
Group classes find solid footing on the ipe wood-covered terrace overlooking the Holy City. Custom-made lounges and tables are from locally based Teak + Table.
Après class, members enjoy spa-style amenities, including both conventional and steam-emitting showers; a Recovery Lounge with complimentary waffle robes; a high-tech, horizontal Zero Gravity massage chair; and an infrared sauna with built-in chromotherapy.
Brooks contends that what really sets Longevity apart from the competition is her approach to staffing. “I look for people who are passionate about fitness and wellness, with some kind of hospitality background,” she explains. “Individuals with the ability to engage with members and guests and help them meet their goals. I’m very proud of my staff—it really showed this year—everyone has really come together to keep Longevity going through the pandemic.”
Brooks gives a nod to her alma mater, Ashley Hall, as well. “My business overlooks the campus,” she says, waxing philosophical. “I’ve come full circle. I attribute a lot of my success to the foundations I learned at the school—I still go back and give talks to the girls.” *
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer.