Slather yourself in caviar cream

The Baltimore Sun

Retail therapy has taken on new meaning in America.

Having a bad face day? You can have it exfoliated almost anywhere. Even at the store - while the concierge collects your groceries.

Whole Foods Market will open its second in-store full-service spa this summer in San Francisco. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. has 20 around the United States. The Fred Segal department store in Santa Monica, Calif., offers a range of services if you tire of trying on clothes you can't afford, including a 90-minute, $165 massage.

At a Coldwater Creek spa, you can buy the $65 Ultimate Pedicure before strolling over to the retail side of the operation to unload more money.

"I went to a car wash and had a chair massage," said Anna Marie Colavito, co-owner of Goddess Repair Shop in West Hollywood, Calif. "I think only in California would you go to a carwash and get a massage, too."

The lines are blurring everywhere, actually.

The concept of one-stop shopping has been expanded to include body scrubs, foot reflexology and eyebrow waxes. You can have your roots bleached while trying on a pair of jeans.

What does it all mean? Either that many Americans have too much money or that they don't have enough time, or both.

The answer doesn't matter to businesses trying to set themselves apart by associating their brands with pleasant experiences - and sell more stuff along the way.

In the old days, "you didn't really feel pampered going to Penney's; you went to buy underwear," said Mary Gilly, professor of marketing at the University of California, Irvine.

Now luxury services are available in settings not traditionally thought of as luxurious. "It's become more democratic," Gilly said, with businesses "introducing another socioeconomic class ... to these services by providing them in a retail environment where they feel comfortable."

Department stores began coddling their clientele decades ago. At Bullocks Wilshire in the 1960s, you could get your nails done while someone else did your shopping. Hair salons in J.C. Penney stores are nothing new. In fact, some of Penney's spas have been around for about a decade. Nordstrom opened the first of its 13 in-store spas in 1989.

The difference today is in the scope, combinations and players involved.

Attitudes also have changed, with more people feeling entitled to pampering and determined to squeeze it in among the various chores of everyday life.

"There's this inevitable downward gravitational pull of all luxury products," said Pam Danzinger, founder of Unity Marketing, a luxury-market research firm in Pennsylvania. "It's happening in luxury cars. It's happening in all categories of luxury goods."

And not a moment too soon as far as Shirley Lansberg is concerned. The mother of three from Ventura, Calif., doesn't have the time or tolerance for fussy destination spas but is a regular at a local Coldwater Creek spa.

"They treat you the same regardless of who you are," she said. "It's a spa for everyone."

Lansberg, an operations manager for an aircraft electronics manufacturing company, recently treated girlfriend Rusa Bass to her first pedicure. They changed into robes to unwind in the relaxation room, where they sipped tea and sat with warm wraps around their necks.

They then settled into zero-gravity recliners and were draped with blankets as soft guitar sounds filled the air.

Bass got the full treatment: a warm towel to encase her legs, a clay mask and booties for her feet, and then a massage - expert thumbs pressing into the ball of her foot, fingertips running lightly down her lower leg. Her baby toes were rotated in circles, and each calf got a brisk rubbing.

Before leaving, the women stopped in the spa store, which sells robes, sandals, scrubs, body butter and more. Lansberg spent $86 on two candles and a CD.

"After having the spa experience," she said, "it was like, the smells, the products - you wanted to take some of that home with you."

If she had whipped out her credit card again when she moved on to the Coldwater Creek clothing store a short stroll away, the retailer would really have scored.

Perhaps with this in mind, the three spas the company will open this year will be attached to stores, allowing customers to drift easily from one spending option to another.

That's the Whole Foods approach. The company's first spa, on the second level of its largest Dallas supermarket, sells all the usual treatments along with clothes made of organic cotton, Earth shoes, jewelry and cosmetics.

The fixings for dinner are just down the grand staircase.

It's "all about convenience," said Sherrie Huebner, the spa's director. "Sometimes people drop off the grocery list and our concierge will actually shop for them while they get a massage."

(The concierge charges nothing for this service, and tips aren't accepted, but you should be very explicit in placing your order, because your Custom Body Glow can't be interrupted.)

The expedient-indulgences trend is "a natural progression," said Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association. "Where the salons now have stuff [to buy], retail stores now have salons."

This is, well, stressful for the traditional spa sector.

If people can have 15-minute rubdowns in airport terminals, will any of them devote $990 to a customized five-hour extravaganza at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel that might include an ayurvedic massage, ministrations with warm oils and stones, an Indian head manipulation or an algae body envelopment wrap with lunch included and a monogrammed robe as a parting treat?

The Beverly Wilshire, for one, isn't worried. Its recently jazzed-up spa isn't designed to compete with Whole Foods or Nordstrom or - please - the carwash.

Ditto the Beverly Hills Hotel, where a full-body polish with pulverized diamonds, crystals and pearls, followed by a good slathering with caviar cream, will set you back $260. (The caviar cream doesn't stink, Shanlyn Contrades, the spa desk supervisor, said, although she allowed that its scent was on the "strong" side. )

At the other end of the spectrum is Dyan Kane and her massage chair, which she carries into the carwash to hawk her $1-per-minute services.

"Everybody's waiting, nobody's doing anything," said Kane, who lives in Santa Monica and is also an actress.

The background sounds aren't exactly soothing, but "once they get on the chair and close their eyes and the massage starts, they go inside themselves. A lot of people are very stressed out and they don't have a lot of time in their lives to go to a spa. They can get their cars washed - and get themselves taken care of at the same time."

Leslie Earnest writes for The Los Angeles Times.

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