When About Faces opened its first full-service spa in the Baltimore area in 1973, skin exfoliation, deep tissue massages and other body-pampering indulgences weren’t widely available to most people.
Owner Patrick Brennan said that About Faces operated for years with no competition. But as of late, Baltimore has become home to more and more spas – the latest being Prive, which opened in the new Silo Point upscale condominium development this summer. There’s even a spa, the Quintessential Gentleman in downtown Baltimore, that is just for men.
The spa openings are being driven by a general increase in the interest by both men and women to pay more attention to their bodies, for both cosmetic and health reasons. Brennan said massages are doing particularly well as people look to reduce stress.
Opening a spa during a time when the economy is faltering and people are spending less may seem counterintuitive. But people are still visiting spas, although they are spending less on services – perhaps getting a half-hour massage instead of an hour, according to the International Spa Association. Revenue at spas in the U.S. was $12.8 billion in 2008, the latest figures available from the ISA. That was a 17.8 percent increase from the year before.
Those numbers might not hold up this year, however, as, anecdotally, spa owners report that people have pulled back spending on services, said Lynn McNees, president of the International Spa Association.
“People may be forced to limit the treatments they receive, but they are still going to spas because they realize the importance of dealing with issues like stress now, rather than paying for it down the road,” McNees said in an e-mailed response. “With concerns over the economy, combined with our busy schedules, people are realizing they must take time out to recharge their batteries and are turning to the spa lifestyle as a necessary part of a healthy routine.”
New spas are also opening in upscale condominium developments, such as at the Ritz-Carlton Residences in South Baltimore, that sell themselves as offering amenities right at residents’ fingertips. These developments also tend to have fitness centers, retail and concierge and mail services on site.
The Pearl at the Ritz has a sea theme, with walls painted the color of the ocean, faux waterfalls and large-screen televisions with fish swimming on the screen throughout the property. It offers services such as massages with hot lava stones and the blue grotto, a treatment where couples paint each other’s bodies with mud that detoxifies the skin.
“I think there have always been spas in Baltimore,” said Frances Scheele, director at Pearl. “I think that now there are a core group of properties that are focusing on the full spa experience.”
Jennifer Beck had spent 15 years as a hairdresser in Federal Hill in Baltimore before she and partner Johnna Sychuk opened Prive spa at Silo Point. She said her clients had always talked about wishing there was a place where they could get have all their beauty needs met, not just their hair.
“Here they can have all of the amenities in one space,” Beck said of Prive, which offers everything from massages and pedicures to eyelash extensions. She said the salon hopes to eventually expand to medical spa services.
Brennan questions whether the newer spas can survive off customers from the condominiums. He said he’s not concerned about the new competition hurting his own business because About Faces has been around for so long and has a loyal client base, Brennan said. The company has five locations, including in the Canton Crossing office complex near downtown. He said the stronger spas will last in the long run.
“There’s already consolidation going on in the marketplace in Baltimore,” Brennan said. “The economy is definitely taking out the weaker locations.”
Consumers seem to like the new choices.
Patricia Granata-Eisner, who is executive director for a nonprofit, recently got a facial at Prive. “I like the fact that I can get everything done in one place when I need to,” she said.
Brigitte Rawlings, 41, of Laurel was relaxing on a chaise waiting to get a body scrub and other services at The Pearl recently.
“When you come here, it’s like you’re in a different world,” said Rawlings, who has been to Pearl a few times. “You don’t feel like you’re in they city at all.”