One-fifth of a mile. That’s all that separates Row House and Row Republic — two new rowing studios that have popped onto Boston’s booming boutique fitness scene in the past few months.
That news came as a shock to Row House co-owner Gyee O’Malley, who discovered Row Republic’s proximity to her studio the same day she signed the lease for the Lovejoy Wharf location, which opened in September.
“We had just signed the lease when we realized that they were opening,” says Gyee, who co-owns the studio with her husband, Bob.
The proximity of the two studios shows how Boston is like catnip for the boutique fitness industry, which finds devoted clients in young, upwardly-mobile professionals who have money (and calories) to burn. While indoor cycling studios have opened (and in some cases, closed) all over Boston, rowing is now cruising into the luxury fitness stratosphere, with entrepreneurs crossing their fingers that it will prove to be as profitable as the spin craze.
“We went to SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp and other really good studios, and were like, man, why is there not a rowing concept?” says Row Republic co-owner Joey Tagliente, who got into the sport after after a concussion sidelined his college football career. His sister, Kristina, with whom he co-owns the studio on North Washington Street in the North End, suggested he join the school rowing team.
Now, the Tagliente siblings are focused on creating a hospitality experience around rowing. Their luxury studio, which opened in July, combines rowing with strength training in a bootcamp-style workout. Luxury amenities are plentiful at their North End studio, where clients find everything from spa-style rain shower heads to complimentary DryBar products to three types of water on tap (cold, sparkling, or ambient).
Classes take place inside a room named “Deep Blue,” where thumping music booms overhead as a headset-clad instructor guides class members while they hop on and off the rowing machines during 50- or 60-minute classes. Rowing machine 16 tends to be the hottest commodity in the room, because users can watch themselves in the mirror as they row back and forth.
“We think this is the best indoor rowing studio in the world,” says Joey. “We don’t think you can go to any city in the world right now and find a concept like we do, rowing and strength training, and beat us.”
Over at Row House, O’Malley was looking to pivot from her background as a management consultant into something a bit more entrepreneurial. A longtime fitness enthusiast, Row House started to expand nationally when she and her husband were looking for a business idea. (It now has 28 locations across the country. The O’Malley’s own the Lovejoy location.)
“We got very enamored with the brand,” says Gyee, who saw the toll that high-impact workouts like running took on the body. “Being very inclusive, a brand that’s welcoming, and provides a very sustainable workout for people. It’s low impact, high energy, very engaging. Rowing is what spoke to us.”
While the proximity of the two studios has created a bit of confusion (“We’ve had people show up at our front door thinking they were there,” says O’Malley) the owners assert that they’re very different. But they’re by no means the only rowing studios in town.
Btone Fitness, which has 10 studios, incorporates rowing into some of their classes, as does SwetStudio in the South End and Power Rowing in Brookline. So does OrangeTheory, a veritable fitness behemoth. But the boom in the industry does pose a question: Can Boston’s fitness scene support all these studios? Just this past year, Recycle Studio, Boston’s first studio solely devoted to indoor cycling, and Cyc Fitness, a national chain, shut down.
“It happened with spin,” says Elise Caira, 30, who just opened her fifth SweatFixx studio in Massachusetts earlier this month, this time in Amesbury. “And I think it’s going to happen with row.”
A former basketball player at Bentley University, the Wakefield native blew out both her ACLs before realizing she needed a more low-impact workout. She opened her first studio in her hometown back in 2017, and followed that nine months later with another in Arlington. Now up to 45 employees, SweatFixx has some male instructors, but their management team is entirely composed of women.
“We basically wanted to be the SoulCycle of row,” says Caira. “We were the first one to it in this area, but we’re not gonna be the last one.”
Caira says she does believe the industry is “super saturated.” However, she says that’s why it’s even more important “to stay true to who you are, and stay in your lane.”
“We’re never going to go try to be who we’re not,” says Caira, who lives in North Reading. “We know our niche. Our studios are very basic and clean cut. No frills. We’re all about community. We’re not about the bells and whistles.”
Clients at SweatFixx range from pregnant women and senior citizens to an America Ninja Warriors and professional hockey players.
“Anybody can do it, but it is hard for everybody,” says Caira.
Meanwhile, the Tagliente siblings have their sights set on expansion, though they’re staying mum on the details.
“With each studio,” says Joey, “we want to built it better, and better, and better. For me, I’ve never once thought, ‘man, is the fitness industry oversaturated.’ I just thought ‘oh we’re gonna be the best at it.’”
Megan Johnson can be reached at megansarahjohnson@