Last week, I stopped in to chat with Chris Heeb and his wife, Karen Makar, co-owners of Crossfit Nickel City.

What drew me to Nickel City for this interview was the fact that Chris had set up shop not in the suburbs, not in North Buffalo among the cluster of national chain stores and gyms, but on Virginia and 10th, in the lower west side on the outskirts of Allentown.

“One of our members bought the building at auction from the city and showed it to us when we were looking for our first location. It was actually a grow house. When we started renovating, we found tons of buckets with soil. They had built one big room that was well insulated and had an extensive lighting rig. It took about 7 months to totally rehab the building. We ripped out layers upon layers of drywall and brought down all the walls. We filled three dumpsters full of garbage before we could even get stared on the build out.”

Chris was doing most of the rehab work himself, hiring only an electrician and a plumber. They were finally ready to open in October 2014. Since then, there has been growing interest in their facility, as well as the continued growth of CrossFit as a whole.

To an outsider like myself, CrossFit can be very intimidating. Social media is loaded with photos of people throwing barbells with 200+ lbs over their heads at 6AM, and articles about Paleo diets, and workouts of the day. It can seem like an insiders club, and not necessarily for people who may just want to try it out.

I asked Chris about that perception, and what it has meant for attracting new members.

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“Honestly, it’s a bigger hurdle than I ever anticipated. What I think a lot of people don’t realize is that you can buy single sessions or bundles, but unlike a traditional gym, you are not locked into any monthly or annual contract, so you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it out. We have workouts for beginners as well as advanced. Some people want to work out every day, others want to come once a week, we’ve got the whole spectrum here.”

If you don’t know Chris, perhaps you would recognize him as the guy who runs the Shamrock Run and the Turkey Trot each year in nothing but a speedo and winter hat, often covered head to toe in permanent marker autographs from friends and strangers alike. In other words, he’s very approachable. The same can be said for Karen. I asked her what it was like for women to try out a gym seemingly full of men. I was surprised to learn that women make up about 60% of the population at Nickel City.

“First of all, we’re coaches here, and we’re not the type to scream at everyone who is doing a workout. Everyone’s different and has different ways of motivating and being motivated.” They said the majority of the motivation comes from those working out around you. Instead of wearing headphones and texting while operating a machine, your fellow members are cheering you on or doing a workout with you. That’s the feeling I got from Chris and the one I have received from my own friends who have joined Nickel City in the past few months. It’s fun! There’s hip hop on the stereo. There is a sense of community there. Whether you’re coming with your friends, or making friends there, you’re not working out alone, and you’re motivated to reach new goals.


Chris and Karen are joined by another owner, Chris Nentraz, a physical therapist who brings over 14 years of athlete training to the facility. Nentraz operates his office out of the facility. Nickel City stresses the importance of working out the right way. Using the proper technique and never over-exerting. In this way, you can avoid injury and stay healthy.

This Sunday, March 22, they’re hosting an event open to the public that will instruct on how to become injury-proof, as well as workouts you can do anywhere, even at the office, to get healthier.
So come and meet Chris, Chris, Karen, and your neighbors down on Virginia St. at 12:00 that day!

Crossfit Nickel City

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