Tuesday, June 24, 2008

AMERICAN NOTES: SWIM CLUBS DISAPPEAR WITH CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS

AMY GARDNER WASHINGTON POST Beneath the sparkling-blue surface of scores of the region's neighborhood swim clubs is a troubling new reality: Many of them are crumbling physically and financially.

At pools built 40, 50 or 60 years ago, bath houses are moldering. Pumps do not work. A sinkhole threatens the entire parking lot of one club in Fairfax County. And at the same time that many of these clubs need new people and their money, pool memberships are plummeting.

In many neighborhoods, older families no longer have young children. Two-career families have no time. And some immigrant families are less inclined to join because they are new to the area or because the pool does not hold the same cultural value for them as it does for generations of suburban Americans.

As a result, dozens of private clubs across the area are at risk of closing. Some already have, and others are teetering. Still others have figured out how to survive by reaching out to newcomers and immigrant communities or leasing land for cellphone towers or fast-food restaurants. The choice is simple, many pool officials say: If the clubs don't change, those icons of Washington's once-thriving middle-class suburbs won't survive.

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