Hope for the Towels at the Montclair Y

Each year, more than 18,000 towels are stolen from the Montclair Y. We’re not talking plush Egyptian Cotton with a high thread count, either. These are standard, white workout and smallish bath towels that have been available to members at no extra charge for years. But they’re actually not free.

An effort to go green, and reduce the costs associated with the upkeep of the towel service — which comes to around $100K per year, according to JoAnn Short, President/CEO of the Montclair YMCA — as well as the ongoing theft issue, has made it clear that there would need to be changes to the service, along with other cost-cutting, energy efficiency efforts.

On August 5, Short sent out an email to the membership saying that the board had decided not to purchase additional towels after September, and that they would phase out the free service. This meant that stolen towels wouldn’t be replaced — when they ran out, the service would end, and members would be expected to bring their own, or purchase towels from the front desk.

“The board has been talking about this for years, as an ongoing financial concern,” Short told Baristanet. “We knew the numbers were staggering but we were concerned that if we stopped the service, we would lose members. The upset at the announcement was big, and members started to speak out.”

Some people were angry, and said that they would discontinue their membership over the change. Surprisingly, most of the remaining towels in the Y’s collection “walked out of the building” in the course of the next week. With that sudden mass theft, came a reaction from both staff, board and membership.

According to Short, the action is a financial necessity. The towel expense became especially visible with the 2008 economic downturn, when the organization started implementing salary freezes and layoffs. Employees are now looking at another wave of salary freezes and a cut in their retirement. This time around, Short knew that she could no longer put off taking a serious look the towel scenario.

A letter from Short, sent to the membership yesterday, which asked for feedback and suggestions, prompted an outpouring of concern and suggested solutions for what has been dubbed the “Save our Towels” campaign.

“This past week has been difficult, and lately, I have felt like I’m just running a business, rather than the family-like operation that the Y has always been,” said Short. “Yesterday, I had an ‘aha’ moment, and when I allowed our members to speak to me about the situation. I realized that together we would be able to solve this problem. It put a little skip back in my step.” Short made 20 appointments to meet with members and hear their ideas that very day.

Short and the board members have agreed to take a 30-day pause to consider their options. “We may not come back to the way we’ve known our towel service to be in the past, but they WILL come back in some form,” she told Baristanet. “It’s going to be a win/win situation.”

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  1. How about the way other gyms do this? When you check in you get two towels, when you leave you have to put two towels in the dirty bin.

    If I have to bring my own towels and wash them I’m not sure how cutting towel service is saving the earth.

  2. 18,000 towels a year stolen? 100K for this service? And they are only just now cutting it?

    I’ve since moved on to LA Fitness (no towel service nor have I heard any complaints about it), but when I did go to the Montclair Y, having a Y-provided towel was the least of my concerns. Anyone leaving for that reason is silly.

  3. I’ve been a member of the Y for 16 years & love it. It’s simply awful that members just walk out with towels, no doubt thinking “oh well, it’s only one”.

    The Y has 2 choices: keep the towel service and raise membership fees for ALL of us to cover this large financial loss (provoking an angry outcry) or take away the towels (provoking an angry outcry). To those that say “I’ll quit if they take away the towels”, well, then maybe you should quit if it’s that important to you.

    One other idea is to charge a small daily fee to “rent” a towel, which a couple of Y’s in NYC do.

    Everyone wants fiscal responsibility from companies, government etc. but when necessary cuts (in $ or in towels) hit something WE like, the result is outrage.

    Perhaps people could just stop taking towels! What an idea!!!!!!

  4. How ugly that people actually threatened to leave the Y over towels. Really? I see it (saw it?) as a pleasant perk, not a right. And certainly not something that the non-exorbitant fees of the Y (especially for students and senior citizens) demand. Bring a towel to lie down on for class or dry off with for swimming or sweating.

    I feel like echoing some of the commenters on here that I almost never agree with: Get rid of entitlement programs! No new towels!

  5. “Get rid of entitlement programs! No new towels!”

    Of course, in the case of the Y (unlike those other entitlement programs) the “ugly” people threatening to leave are the same “ugly” people paying for the whole shebang.

    How DARE they make demands of a service they pay $748 a year for!

  6. OMG – that explains thes new choppers hovering over the area. I heard Sean Hannity will be doing a live broadcast from the bench beneath the Montclair Rooster. It’s Towel-Gate!

  7. 18,000 towels‽‽‽ – that’s 50 a day! My bet is that’s not just the members taking a few home – if that number is correct, I think it’s very possible that there’s an organized effort to steal and resell them. Yes, that’s what I’m saying:

    I think someone is “laundering” the towels!

  8. I wonder if all health clubs have this problem. It’s something to investigate. If so, how do they handle?

    I like Holly’s suggestion best: 2 in, 2 out.

    Personally, I don’t see the big deal in bringing your own towel, though. When you go to the town pool, you bring your own. Also, it gives you soemthing in which to wrap your wet bathing suit when you leave. As far which is greener, SOMEONE has to launder a towel, whether you bring your own or whether the Y provides them.

  9. It’s sad…another reminder that this is not the booming 90s. Times are tough everywhere. $100K at the Y has to be 2-3 full time salaries. I’ll be glad to bring my own towel from now on.

  10. As a former Y member who left only because I moved, for the life of me I can’t understand members who are thinking about cancelling because they are considering eliminating towel service. I joined the Y because of all they do in the community, from sending kids to camp to providing scholarships for those in need. When I joined, it was because of their programs and services and NOT because they did or did not have towel service. How can people who have been there for years, who have made life-long friendships there, whose kids have grown up there, and who know they are a not for profit, even think about going elsewhere because of towels? I’ve had friends have to cancel their memberships because they lost their jobs. People everywhere are going through difficult economic times. Have we lost our heads about what is important and how lucky we are to have what we have? I loved my towel too, but people should be ashamed of themselves for thinking of going elsewhere given all the Y has done for Montclair for so many years. And to those members who “borrow” towels…go buy your own!

  11. Sdavis: I’d bet a $2 towel fee that threatening to leave is a bluff made in a moment of indignation, not weighing the options. And be wary of being too sincere here. It doesn’t go over well.

  12. ewwww, seriously, do you want to use a towel that may or may not have been someomeplace that shall not be mentioned and may or may not have been cleaned using a santizing agent. Even if they were free towels for the taking I would only trust the ones I washed myself.

  13. And be wary of being too sincere here. It doesn’t go over well.

    Actually, sdavis, I find the sincerity over snark to be a breath of fresh air on B’net. I feel like I just ate a Mentos. (No sarcasm, I swear.)

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