Downtown Gainesville rock climbing gym celebrates two years, hopes to open second gym
As the city’s sole rock climbing gym, The Knot is taking the Gainesville climbing scene to new heights. Since its February 2020 opening, co-owners Mike Palmer and Mitchell Eadens have united climbers across Gainesville and now plan to expand with a second location downtown.
The Knot, at 704 S. Main St., offers traditional styles of indoor rock climbing across its 7,000-square-foot space, including bouldering, belaying and top-roping. Lined with multicolor artificial climbing holds along its walls, the gym challenges members to strategically think before they move as they work through each obstacle.
CEO Mike Palmer said his long-time affinity for climbing has only grown since he first picked up the sport as a boy scout. Countless calluses and decades later, the 40-year-old entrepreneur strives to share his passion with his fellow community of climbers.
“I always knew I wanted to start a business,” Palmer said. “Climbing has been such an important part of my life, so this just made sense for me.”
When Gainesville Rock Gym closed in December 2015 due to infrastructural issues with its building’s foundation, climbers across Gainesville were left hanging without a local facility for practicing.
The climbing community resorted to practicing at Sun Country Sports Center in Jonesville, a youth gymnastics facility with a small corner reserved for rock climbing, said Benjamin Ryder, president of the UF Rock Climbing Club and first-year material science and engineering graduate student.
Now, climbers have flocked to The Knot, which has occupied GRG’s former lot since its opening in 2020.
“The Knot has been much more convenient, and it's a little more catered to the climbing community,” Ryder said. “So, it definitely filled that niche that was lacking in Gainesville prior to its existence.”
Moreover, Palmer said he hopes to pay homage to GRG, as the facility served as a safe space for him while he was a college student at UF.
“This was a very, very personal project for me,” he said. “I remember what Gainesville Rock Gym meant to me when I was that age in college. It was my entire social life; it was where I always wanted to be.”
The inception of The Knot dates back to 2016, at a time when there were fewer than 100 rock climbing gyms nationwide. While finding a space suited for the facility posed challenge after challenge, Palmer said he knew of the promise his new business could deliver.
“If there’s something big that you want to happen, you just have to stick with it,” he said. “It’s almost like blind persistence.”
Palmer, along with co-owner Eadens, worked tirelessly for years to scout the market for a feasible location and apply for loans to execute the process, he said.
“We went to every bank in Gainesville, which wanted nothing to do with us because we were a startup business,” Palmer said. “Things that I thought were going to take one month took three months; things that I thought were going to take three months took six months.”
The biggest challenge was fully renovating the building, including added air conditioning and spray foam roofing for better insulation. The goal was to modernize the building to both maximize efficiency and sustainability, he said.
Within its first week of opening, The Knot greeted more members than it could have hoped to amass, he said.
“Where we thought we were going to be three years down the road we were at within nine months,” he said.
Now, the gym has become Gainesville’s hub for seasoned climbers and amateurs alike.
Member and fourth-year applied physiology and kinesiology student, Haley Carney, delved into the sport a little over two years ago.
“I rock climbed when I was nine—so, I assumed this would be easy,” Carney laughed. “And then I found out it was actually a lot more challenging than I thought.”
Carney prefers top-roping, a form of indoor climbing that allows climbers to scale taller heights with the help of a harness attached to a rope along the wall. Training at The Knot has prepared her well to transition toward outdoor climbing in nature, otherwise known as free climbing, she said.
“Not only can I climb in a gym, but I can also take it outside and explore different environments,” she said. “It’s one of the best feelings on the planet to get to the top and stare at the scene around you.”
As head setter at The Knot, Ashley Marcone rearranges the walls’ bouldering holds on a weekly basis.
“You want someone who is 5 feet tall to be able to climb the same thing as someone who is 6-foot-5,” she said. “You want there to be something for everyone, whether it’s their first time at the gym or they’ve been climbing for years.”
Marcone, who has been climbing for over three years, said the liberating feeling of being on the wall is incomparable to any other sporting experience.
“When you’re high up and your adrenaline is pumping, it’s just so exhilarating,” she said. “It consumes you.”
The Knot sets itself apart by offering more than just a climbing facility, but a shared community of diverse individuals, she added.
“You meet people from all walks of life,” she said. “Nobody is a stranger here,” she said.
For Palmer, the impetus for opening of The Knot was not its promise in the market or its success, but its ability to forge relationships between like-minded people.
“Whether it’s catching up with friends or sitting around in between climbs, the whole point is just to dangle from plastic with other people who like to do that, too,” he said.