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Rain City Fit: Building an Inclusive Fitness Movement in Seattle

Jun 12, 2024

People cheer on a participant in a powerlifting competition in the street in Seattle

In the bustling streets of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, a unique fitness community is thriving, driven by the vision and passion of Ben Koenigsberg and Leanna (Le) Carr. Their inspiring journey from humble beginnings to running multiple gyms illustrates a deep commitment to fostering inclusivity, community engagement, and upholding ethical business practices in the fitness world.

Starting Small, Dreaming Big

In his twenties, amid battling drug addiction, Ben discovered a transformative outlet: lifting weights. This pivotal shift not only steered him away from substance abuse but also paved the way for a flourishing future. Transitioning from the hospitality industry, he launched his fitness entrepreneurship journey in 2015 with outdoor boot camps. “In the fall of that year I found a 600 square foot basement space in Capitol Hill,” says Ben. A few years later, he opened Rain City Fit with a mission to create an inclusive and welcoming workout space for those often excluded.

Ben Koenigsberg and Le Carr pose inside a gym wearing colorful outfits
Ben Koenigsberg and Leanna (Le) Carr, co-owners of Rain City Fit.

Shortly after, Ben met Le at a time when he was considering expanding the business. Le, a seasoned international powerlifting competitor, shared her own transformative journey. “I felt like I needed to change that part about myself, and I became addicted to the validation of it and realized that I was severely neglecting my mental health.”

Le had plans to become a psychologist and exit the fitness industry. “I didn't see a way to be immersed in an industry that preyed on people's insecurities and all the negative things that we tell ourselves about our bodies,” she explains. “It wasn't until I met Ben and saw what he had already started that I realized there is a different way.”

Le’s arrival injected fresh energy into what was initially a one-person operation, transforming it into a thriving community. The two were united by their shared aspiration to establish a genuinely inclusive and inviting gym environment, especially catering to marginalized communities like the queer, trans, and BIPOC communities. Together, Ben and Le grew Rain City Fit to a total of four locations within Seattle, including the RCF Barbell Club, RCF SODO, and RCF Powerbottom.

A person lifts weights in a gym surrounded by a crowd of people cheering for them
A Rain City Fit powerlifting competition.

Cultivating Safe and Welcoming Workout Spaces

The Rain City Fit gyms offer a reprieve from the judgment and body image issues prevalent in traditional fitness environments, with a notable absence of mirrors. “There's research that looks at how mirror usage can lead to more intense body dysmorphia or fixation on things that you want to change about yourself,” says Le.

Other customizations like displaying queer and trans flags, using pronouns, and enforcing rules around unsolicited advice and diet talk have helped Ben and Le build a safe community space at Rain City Fit.

They also host fundraising events throughout the year to support local nonprofits, including their annual Pride deadlift party, Pull-A-Palooza, with proceeds going to LGBTQIA2+ organizations local to Seattle. “As a business that participates in capitalism, we recognize our privilege and try to do everything that we can to continue using that privilege to give back to folks who need it the most,” says Le.

Everyone is welcome at their events, explains Le. “There’s an anti-trans movement going on right now, especially for athletes. We not only allow trans athletes in our competitions, but we encourage it and are intentional in providing that space.”

A child participating in a powerlifting competition is cheered on by the crowd
The crowd cheers on a young powerlifting participant at Rain City Fit's annual Pull-A-Palooza Pride event.

Purchasing a Building with an SBA Loan

Entrepreneurship is rife with financial hurdles, and Ben and Le have experienced their fair share. Ben recalls not being able to secure PPP loans from his larger bank during the pandemic, which motivated him to switch to a local bank, bringing him to Beneficial State Bank.

“I realized I could move my money to a bank that cares about me,” says Ben. “We’re not a massive business, but we can email Stacey and I’m going to get an email back the next day. And I ask questions all the time because I’m new to this, and we get help, which is nice.”

Ben and Le were also able to secure an SBA loan, which allowed them to purchase a building for their SODO location, one of their three specialty gyms. “We’re renters, and being in Capital Hill, we know eventually they’re going to knock the building down and we’re going to get kicked out,” says Ben. “I’m always thinking about how to make good long-term investments, so I got in touch with Cynthia at Beneficial State Bank.”

Ben Koenigsberg and Le Carr speak outside Rain City Fit at a powerlifting event
Ben and Le outside Rain City Fit during a powerlifting event.

SBA (Small Business Administration) loans are partially guaranteed by the government. They can be great options for small business owners because of their longer terms and low fees.

“Ben, Le, and Rain City Fit are such a pillar in our community,” says Stacey Krynsky, Team Leader and Client and Treasury Manager at Beneficial State Bank. “Their cost-effective and inclusive approach attracts people from far and wide who are eager to join their community, including some of the Beneficial State Bank staff.”

Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

For those embarking on the entrepreneurial journey, Ben and Le offer sage advice. "Start small, be patient, and know you’ll need to make some sacrifices in your life," Ben advises. “An SBA loan is great; just know why you’re doing it and where you’re going to be making money from. And bank locally. If I had done that earlier, that would have made the pandemic easier.”

A group of people at Rain City Fit posing for a photo after a competition
Participants of a Rain City Fit powerlifting competition.

A Beacon of Inclusivity and Empowerment

Ben and Le's story serves as a beacon of hope in an industry often flawed by exclusivity and elitism. Through their unwavering commitment to inclusivity, community engagement, and ethical business practices, they have created not just gyms, but sanctuaries where all are welcome and empowered to thrive.

Visit the Rain City Fit website to learn more about their membership options and their upcoming Pride event, Pull-A-Palooza.

If you are a small business owner interested in an SBA loan from Beneficial State Bank, visit our website to learn more.

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