Goldfish Swim School makes its debut at San Marco Plaza in Lakewood Ranch.
When George Loukmas thought about his childhood swimming lessons, the memories were not pleasant. He plunged into a cold, poorly lit pool at a high school.
There was not much that was fun or exciting about it.
“It wasn’t a great experience,” he said.
However, George Loukmas; his wife, Toby Loukmas; and their longtime friends Bret and Anne Edwards hope to change that for children in the greater Lakewood Ranch area.
On Feb. 11, the couples opened Goldfish Swim School at 8205 Natures Way, Suite 111, Lakewood Ranch. It is the 100th location for the Michigan-based Goldfish Swim School franchise.
“Our whole facility is tailored for the kids,” Toby Loukmas said. “Swim lessons for a lot of kids can be scary. We want this to look like and feel like a place they are comfortable.”
Goldfish Swim School is also the first tenant for the 8,500-square-foot anchor space at San Marco Plaza.
“This is a seven-day-a-week operation,” George Loukmas said. “I think we’re going to bring tons of foot traffic.”
The swim school offers swimming classes for children ages 4 months to 12 years old. It is an indoor, year-round swim facility with class sizes of no more than one instructor per four children. Students enroll through a monthly $96 membership that includes weekly 30-minute swim lessons. Swimmers can continue working through the swim curriculum until they know all four major swimming strokes.
The facility includes an air-conditioned lesson-viewing gallery for parents with complimentary Wi-Fi, dry private family changing huts, private family showers, a snack bar and a retail shop. There are even machines that wring water from wet swimsuits and hairdryers to dry hair before leaving the school.
In addition to swim lessons, Goldfish Swim School offers weekly family swims, both for members and nonmembers, and party packages.
George Loukmas said he and Bret Edwards have been friends since high school in Warren, Mich. The pair began talking about opening a business together after the Loukmases moved to the area five years ago. George and Toby Loukmas, who live in Parrish, had taken their then-2-year-old daughter, Jillian (now 8), to a similar swim school in Michigan and had a great experience. Bret Edwards, who still lives in Michigan, knew a franchise owner of Goldfish Swim School in Connecticut. The men began researching.
Both the Loukmas and the Edwards families liked the idea of a business that would benefit the community and help keep children safe.
“We wanted to enjoy it, and dealing with children is always a good thing,” George Loukmas said. “The idea of teaching kids to swim — that it could save their lives — is something to be proud of.”
Toby Loukmas said she heard from friends in Florida about the difficulty they had with more traditional Florida swim lessons, which are outdoors. Many times, lessons would be canceled due to lightning or rain, and they had been frustrated.
The concept of an indoor swim school, which Toby Loukmas said is new to Florida, eliminates those problems. The pool is kept at 90 degrees, and the air around the pool is kept at 92 degrees, so swimmers are comfortable in and out of the water.
Toby Loukmas said the whole Goldfish Swim School is designed with children and families in mind. Children earn ribbons for learning new skills, and the curriculum is designed to teach skills and help children gain confidence in and around the water.
The Loukmases’ goal is to have 1,500 monthly memberships, which is seen at other Goldfish locations. Toby Loukmas said the franchise nationwide provides lessons to 105,000 children per week.
Toby Loukmas said Goldfish Swim Schools also offers free water safety presentations to schools, day cares and other facilities interested in the service.
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