There’s something serendipitous about fitness gurus from the East Coast who end up owning successful gyms in the heart of Tam Junction.
In 2002, Scarsdale, New York native Allison Belger and her husband TJ, who grew up in New Jersey, opened their first TJ’s Gym gym in San Rafael, with locations following in Corte Madera, Novato and eventually, at 215 Shoreline Hwy.
TJ’s was a massive success among a wide range of fitness-seekers, from those looking to get back in shape to diehards who helped build arguably the largest CrossFit community in the world at the time.
In recent years, the Belgers scaled back their fitness empire, moving everything to their space in Corte Madera and shutting down the Tam Junction space in December 2022.
The timing synced perfectly for Joe Cicero, a fellow East Coast native who was looking to grow his latest venture on the heels of an innovative, diverse career at the heart of myriad businesses.
On December 21st, 2021, Cicero opened The Yard in lower Pacific Heights.
Less than a few weeks later, he leased the space in Tam Junction, appreciating the distinctions between the two locations and providing The Yard with options depending on the models of each bore out.
Cicero grew up in Rochester, New York, playing a wide range of sports and eventually playing football at his hometown college as a linebacker and fullback.Cicero earned an economics degree and later moved to Boston to worked in consulting for six years, doing strategic consulting for private equity firms or due diligence on acquisitions.
Fast forward to 2018 and Cicero and his finance had moved to the Bay Area. Cicero took a job at A3 Ventures, the not-widely-known innovation lab and capital investment engine of AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah.
AAA’s venture capital arm provided Cicero with a crash course in all things entrepreneurship, working within an incubator environment and starting a few companies, including Gig Car Share, which operates a fleet of Toyota Prius Hybrid vehicles and all-electric Chevrolet Bolts.
From there, Cicero was drawn toward fitness, particularly when he spotted Dryft, an SF-based mobile fitness studio providing high-intensity workouts, as well as Zippity, which sends auto service vehicles to perform professional mobile car care onsite, at the same price as traditional shops, including having your oil changed for you while your car is parked outside your office.
“We were definitely solving a need amidst the pandemic,” he says.
But as the pandemic wore on, Cicero grew to see that all-remote everything was a significant step backwards.
“You were seeing all these trends pop up with working out of the home, but you were also seeing depression and substance abuse related to it,” he says. “People still very much crave the need to be in a community and in person. A lot of uncertainty kind of forced people’s hands. We learned a lot about ourselves and what we’re capable of. There’s still a need for the at-home stuff, but I don’t think it will ever replace the tried and true, in-person offering.”
In the San Francisco location, 80% of The Yard’s business is independent trainers who are bringing in their clients, with the remainder coming in on their own.
“Here in Mill Valley, and we’ll see how it develops, but I would expect that it will veer toward fewer trainers but busier generally,” he says.
Cicero says he’s thrilled to have found the Tam Junction space for The Yard.
“It’s only been a couple of weeks since we renovated the space and then opened,” he says. “But people have been popping in and are excited and we’ll see how it all shakes out.”
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