By  on December 20, 2000

NEW YORK -- The new owners of Equinox are arriving just in time for a national roll-out of Equinox health clubs and Equinox EnergyWear stores.

The 11-unit, family-owned chain was purchased Friday by two private equity firms -- North Castle Partners of Greenwich, Conn., and J.W. Childs Associates of Boston.

North Castle Partners invests in companies that provide products and services promoting healthy living such as Elizabeth Arden day spas, Saratoga bottled water and Grand Expectations luxury travel tours. North Castle Partners researched the health club market for two years, before buying Equinox, and occasionally partners with other firms for acquisitions, a company spokesman said.

The purchase price was not revealed, but industry sources valued the deal at substantially more than $100 million.

Equinox was built in less than a decade by five siblings who were born less than 30 months apart, and has grown to now employ 1,200 people.

In 1991, twins Lavinia and Vito Errico and their brother, Dan, started Equinox, aiming to attract urban professionals in their 20s and 30s to their hip health clubs. The following year, their younger sisters, Franny and Terri, who are identical twins, set up Equinox EnergyWear, the retail arm and private label business. To set themselves apart in the competitive Manhattan health club market, Equinox also offers day spas, juice bars and a battery of fitness classes in its locations.

As part of the deal, the two investment companies also purchased the Equinox EnergyWear retail operation.

William Howland, director of public relations and research for the International Health and Racquet Club Association, the Boston-based organization that represents 6,000 clubs worldwide, said the retail portion of the deal could prove to be "incredibly important." He pointed to Gold's Gym and Crunch as examples of other clubs that have used their activewear and other merchandise to increase brand awareness nationally.

"It's tremendously valuable to have people walking around with your logo on even if they're not gym members," Howland said.

The younger twins started their business by selling T-shirts from the juice bar at the Union Square location, Franny Errico said. At that time, the pair put cement in buckets and attached wrought-iron fixtures for displays.

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