TUPELO • Nathan and Chelsea Chapman have been in the fitness industry for years on a personal level, and they’d always had dreams of opening their own business.
Last August, their dream came true, as the couple opened Mississippi Mecca on South Green Street in one of the historic brick warehouses that once was home to Tupelo Garment Co.
Chelsea, from Saltillo, and Nathan, originally from Jacksonville, Fla., met a few years ago in a gym, naturally. They’ve been married for two years – almost how long it took for their gym and fitness center to come together.
“We started talking about this a couple of months before we married and that was two years ago,” Chelsea said. “We’ve been working on this project for about a year and a half.”
Mississippi Mecca isn’t the first gym and fitness center for Chelsea, who opened a women’s facility in Saltillo several years ago.
“Her dad found this place and told us to check it out and said it would make a nice gym one day,” Nathan said of the South Green Street building.
They checked out the building but decided it wasn’t the right time. But they kept coming back to the idea, and even though the building needed extensive remodeling, they felt and heard the call to make things happen.
“We kind of saw a vision, and we knew it would be a lot of work but we decided it would be easier – and cheaper – if we put our own sweat equity in it,” he said. “It was tough ... but it’s been worth it.”
And they certainly poured in copious amounts of sweat equity in getting the building in shape to withstand thousands of pounds in fitness equipment.
Nearly 10,000 square feet is currently usable, with most of the space devoted to state-of-the-art Arsenal equipment. The building has another 10,000 square feet of space available for future expansion, something the Chapmans hope to do in the next five years.
Nathan and Chelsea consulted each other and drew up the plan for the facility themselves.
“I probably drew 5-6 different sets of blueprints before I took them to an architect,” he said.
The downtown location was an ideal spot, especially since there’s no nearby gym to service the area.
Plus, the couple feel connected to the community and want to give back with what they’ve built.
“We’re definitely in the location that’s growing, and we’re glad to be part of it,” Chelsea said.
Chelsea and Nathan are grounded in sports, and a gym ownership is a natural extension. She played sports her entire life and was a cheerleader at Northeast Mississippi Community College. There, she was put in charge of workouts for the cheerleaders and enjoyed doing so.
“After that, my mom passed away in 2012, and after I didn’t have cheerleading anymore I’d go into the gym and made it kind of my safe place and realized I really enjoyed it,” she said.
She also worked at Nutrishop and found out more about how nutrition tied in nicely with an exercise and fitness lifestyle.
“That kind of sparked a passion for helping people,” said Chelsea, who got her training certification in 2015 to begin her career.
“It’s been a long journey, but getting to know people has made it worth it,” she said.
Nathan grew up playing sports as well and the “skinny tall guy” got into weight lifting in high school. He played a year of college basketball and moved to Mississippi, but his focus shifted on his health and fitness.
He started working out more in Pontotoc and got hooked to weight training and body building. And the idea to open his own gym sprang to life then.
They met in a gym four years ago, fell in love, married, and together, their dreams and ideas meshed and created Mississippi Mecca.
Being partners in life and business can be a juggling act sometimes they admit, but being in their 20s, they have time and energy on their side.
“That is one thing – a lot of people doubted us because we were in our 20s and they thought we were too young and we did tackle this big undertaking,” Chelsea said. “But my dad’s phrase ever since I was young was ‘Can’t never could,’ and if somebody tells me I can’t do something, that’s almost a challenge. But I think it helped push both of us to prove that it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, if you have a vision, it’s worth chasing after.”
Inside the mecca
The gym isn’t a 24-hour facility. Hours vary – check its Facebook page for current times – but there is staff present whenever the doors are open.
“We want to keep our eyes on it whenever it is open – keep a clean facility, keeping the weights racked, etc.,” Nathan said. “The equipment is from Arsenal out of Knoxville, Tennessee, and we’re the only gym in Mississippi with Arsenal as far as we know. We have a lot of new pieces people aren’t used to, but that’s another reason why we have the staff so we can show them how it works.”
Boot camp classes are available, and several personal trainers are available as well.
Yoga classes will be starting in the next month or so. Full showers and lockers rooms have been installed, and child care if available. A spray tan facility by appointment only is available.
“We want to continue to grow, and we’d like to add a spin class in the future,” Nathan said. “We just want to add things to better everyone. We just don’t want to get strong, we want to better ourselves overall. We want to make it a lifestyle, an obsession.”
The old school warehouse design with a modern touch is exactly what the Chapmans wanted and got. And if they hope to expand the concept to other cities and towns – and it is part of their long-range plans – they want to keep the look and feel no matter where they go.
“We want to go where everybody is comfortable and wants to go to and not feel intimidated,” Nathan said.
Said Chelsea, “We want people to come in and feel excited to work out and to enjoy the atmosphere. I think it does that and our awesome staff does that, too.
“We want to create a community inside a community for people to improve themselves and that way we can raise the bar, as our slogan says. Mentally, physically, spiritually we want to try to be better.”