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Beauty parlor or pamper parlor? All the elements of a relaxing spa retreat can now be found under one roof

Your beauty salon has had a makeover.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a hair salon was a place to go for a cut and color and maybe a polish change. If you wanted anything more elaborate, your choices were limited.

Now, most salons are no longer just salons. You can have a facial, massage or other body treatment in the same place -- bringing the essence of a spa retreat to a location right down the street.

In Western New York, the trend seems to have hit critical mass this year.

A drive down the 1-mile stretch of Main Street in Williamsville between the 290 and the Amherst town line revealed a whopping 13 places where you can get more than just a haircut: Chez Ann Salon & Day Spa; Leon Studio One; Capello Salons & Day Spa; Birgit's Hair Design; Marcello Salon and Day Spa; Hair X Salonce; Salon Belleza; Serge for Hair and Beauty Therapy; Vogue Salon and Day Spa; Chez Nous Gallery; Sola Da Me Day Spa; the Village Browery; and Excuria Salon and Med Spa.

The New Jersey-based Day Spa Association estimates that there are between 12,000 and 17,000 day spas/salons in the United States today. That's a big jump from the 6,000 day spa/salons in business in 1999, and the 70 or so in operation in 1990.

The No. 1 reason for the changing face of beauty salons is a simple one: Stress.

Women in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond are looking and feeling younger than they did in the past, and are much more aware of the negative effects stress can have on both their looks and their health.

"Day spa treatments are popularly (and accurately) perceived as great stress relievers," says Hannelore Leavy, executive director of the Day Spa Association. "Awareness of the health dangers of stress has enabled consumers to give themselves 'permission' to enjoy spa treatments, which they may have once considered more pampering."

Everyday stresses inflicted by ringing cell phones, dinner-hour trips to the soccer field and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. workdays have increased an already considerable demand for effective and healthful stress relief, she said.

Increasingly, spa customers view facials, massages and body treatments such as mud wraps and salt rubs as pre-emptive strikes against the inevitable damage that stress -- and the passage of time -- inflicts on our skin. And the fact that these services are performed in a relaxing environment, where New Age music plays, aromatherapy soothes and cell phones and kids are verboten? Bliss.

>Need for contact

Even just being touched has a tremendous therapeutic benefit, says Kelly Burns, manager of Chez Ann Salon & Day Spa in the Walker Center.

"People need to be touched," she says. "It's like getting a hug from your mother."

Kara Klaasesz, owner of Bella Day Spa, a full-service spa slated to open this week in Hamburg, says women want help.

"Baby boomers are looking for treatments that will make them look younger and healthier," she says. "They aren't as concerned with price as they are with changing the effects the sun has had on their skin for 20 years."
And in Western New York, the benefits of exfoliating and detoxifying might just be as essential to health and attractiveness as ramping up antioxidant intake or curtailing Cosmo consumption.

According to Brandy Mahon, spa coordinator at En V Us Salon & Spa on Elmwood Avenue, harsh weather takes a particularly heavy toll on our skin and scalp. Spa treatments work wonders on people plagued by dry skin, as well as on Western New Yorkers whose less-than-perfect diets have left them looking a little rough around the edges.

For true day spa afficionados, a Vichy water shower is akin to a fountain of youth, and a spa visit, even a brief one, is money well spent.

"Is it worth the money? No question," says Pam Chrzanowski of Williamsvile.

Of course, there is still a large population of women who cannot imagine why anyone would spend money having her (shhh!) eyebrows waxed when a pair of tweezers could take care of the problem for a one-time expenditure of $10 or so. But as the age range of day spa users stretches from the teens to the 60s, that group is shrinking.

"Spa-goers are much more sophisticated these days," says the Day Spa Association's Leavy. "Spa owners are coming up with many new innovative treatments to attract clients and distinguish themselves from the spa down the street."

>Shopping around

As with any rapidly growing industry, there is a "let the buyer beware" factor associated with the day-spa boom. Some salon operators would say it is splitting hairs, but industry insiders stress that the addition of the words "& Day Spa" to the name does not a day spa make.

There are no governmental regulations that define day spas, but industry guidelines suggest that day spas should offer, among other things, a calming and nurturing environment, licensed technicians and a wide variety of services.

According to association guidelines, roughly 10 percent of the spas in the United States are truly built on the principles of the traditional spa experience.

"Putting one pedicure bowl in a back room does not make you a day spa," notes Gary Frankino , manager of Atillio's Salon & Day Spa in Kenmore. "There's no atmosphere. It's like having a pedicure in a closet."

Comparison shopping is crucial.

The biggest upside of the trend might be that it makes the spa experience more convenient and accessible to customers who would not make a trip to say, Niagara-on-the-Lake, to sample some untried and potentially very personal treatments.

The one-stop-shop factor is also important to a lot of customers, especially those who pop in for a quick treatment on their lunch hours. "You know how sometimes you can take a 15-minute nap and feel rejuvnated? Imagine what an hour of relaxation would do," says Burns.

Cost is another factor that has boosted demand for down-the-street retreats. Although quality spa treatments are by no means cheap, they are generally more reasonable close to home than at "destination spas."

"We can offer a price point that is comfortable, so women don't have to go to an expensive spa and pay for the overhead," Burns says.

Also, visiting a neighborhood shop where she might already know the staff and have a comfort level is far less intimidating for a woman who might get stressed out just by the prospect of not knowing what to expect, how to behave or how much to tip the technician.

"Aside from the fact that I could walk [to my salon] if, say, there was a driving ban and I just had to get a pedicure, I go to [my salon] because the women are all so down-to-earth and funny," says Chrzanowski. "It's like hanging out with your friends or your sisters."

e-mail: bsullivan@buffnews.com

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>Spa etiquette

For the uninitiated, going to a spa for the first time can be stressful in and of itself, and not knowing what is going to happen or how one should behave can make the experience far less relaxing.

The Day Spa Association offers these suggestions for making yourself, and others in the spa, more comfortable:

* Leave your children at home.

* Do not come to your appointment inebriated or under the influence.
* Arrive on time or early for your appointment.

* Turn your cell phone off.

* Share public spaces respectfully with other spa goers.

* If a staff member does not tell you what the protocol is for dressing for a particular treatment, ASK. Generally, you should undress completely for body services, but undergarments might be OK for some treatments. Your entire body will most often be draped, and the technician will only expose the area to be worked upon.

* If not told, ask technician where to place personal belongings.

* You can be silent or speak quietly while your service is being performed.

* Tell technician about any health concerns, such as pregnancy, high blood pressure, diabetes.

* Let your therapist know if you are out of your comfort zone and if you have special troubled areas that need to be avoided or given extra attention.

* Do not behave in a lewd or demeaning manner to the technician.

* Relax -- that's generally why you are in the spa. Enjoy, benefit and allow others to "do for you."

* Respect that the room must be prepared and used for the next client; so vacate treatment room within a reasonable amount of time upon completion of the service.

* Know if gratuities are included or not and be prepared, according to your experience and desire, whether to tip or not. The rule of thumb is 10 to 15 percent of the cost of service, or about $10 to $15 for a one-hour treatment. Spas often provide tip envelopes at the front desk.

* Give honest feedback to the therapist, owner, receptionist, etc.

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