OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Athletic Club has announced it will be closing its doors after 44 years in the capital.

The fitness centre has been operating since 1976 but, in a statement posted to social media, founder Sol Shabinsky said the COVID-19 pandemic created significant challenges.

"Since 1976, the OAC has served the National Capital Region as its pre-eminent fitness facility; unfortunately, the effects of COVID -19 have generated significant challenges to the ongoing viability of countless operating businesses that rely on the congregation of people in close proximity – regrettably the OAC is not immune to those challenges," Shabinsky said. "As a result, it is with varying emotions that I am announcing that a decision has been made to wind down the operations of the OAC; the final day of business will be Friday, September 11, 2020."

In a note to members, asked that anyone with items in lockers at the club remove them by Sept. 12. Prepaid membership fees would be refunded.

"To the many thousands of members, past and present, who have made the OAC an integral part of their daily lives, thank you for your loyal patronage," Shabinsky said. "To our dedicated staff, thank you for helping make the OAC such a special place to so many people."

General Manager Marc Peterson says that COVID-19 was hard, but the thought of a second wave would have been even more devastating. He says it’s a huge loss for everyone including the 150 staff who were like family.

"I’ve made so many good friends over the years you know members my team," said an emotional Peterson who has worked at the athletic centre for more than 22 years. "I have life-long friends there and I want to thank them for their support and what they’ve done for us and keep us in business for so long and thank you."

Some employees were unaware of the closure until members began arriving to clean out their lockers. Client Sibylle Anderson had been a member for more than seven years and was saddened by the announcement.

"We’ve come to this place with our kids and we’ve enjoyed playing tennis and working out and now we loose a circle of friends."

Alberto Lobato has been a member of 40 years and says he was devastated when he received the email.

"This is our second home. Without any doubt, it’s not news that is welcomed by any member," he said.