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A Sanctuary in the City

by Hannah Lee | June 1, 2002

In the city that never sleeps, where there is a nail salon – literally – on every corner, a new spa has opened up offering its clients the ultimate in customization and pampering. At Just Calm Down every client is treated like Royalty.

Tara Oolie (left) and Chrissy Cortese have been friends since high school.

Salon Name: Just Calm Down

Location: New York City

Owner’s Names: Tara Oolie and Chrissy Cortese

Square footage: 2,700

Years of ownership: opened January 26, 2002

Number of nail techs: 2

Number of employees: 17

Compensation structure: Salary and Commission

Specialties: Customizable manicures and pedicures made from all-natural ingredients

Other services: Massage, facials, waxing, body treatments

A LIFELONG DREAM BETWEEN TWO FRIENDS: Tara Oolie and Chrissy Cortese have been friends since high school – and they just fulfilled a shared dream by opening Just Calm Down, a boutique spa in midtown New York City. Oolie, whose background is in public relations, and Cortese, whose background is in public administration, have done what many others can only dream about. They decided they wanted to own a spa, found a great space in New York City, and got it off the ground. It was three years in the works (but the idea was around for much longer than that) before the spa opened this past January.

“We’ve been buying products for our friends and families for years,” says Oolie. “It has always been a passion of ours. And we felt that there wasn’t a spa out there where we could go and feel totally relaxed and we just knew that it was time.”

The two women found their Flatiron spot (named for the nearby Flatiron building) in an ad in the New York Times. “It is centrally located,” says Oolie. “We get clients form the neighborhood, uptown, downtown, and both East and West sides. Our clientele is a diverse group. We have 20-year-olds and we have 70-year-olds.”

The 2,700-sq.-ft. space needed a total overhaul when they moved in. There was an exposed brick wall and high ceilings. Everything else was a mess. “It looked like a fallout shelter in there. We loved the brick wall and it totally fit in with the look we wanted to create, so we knew we would keep that,” says Oolie of the complete renovation they had to perform before they could even think about opening the spa. “It was one cavernous space, so we put up walls to build the four treatment rooms. The windows in the back had been filled in with bricks and needed to be opened up. It was no easy task.”

A PLACE TO GET AWAY: The outcome is a lovely boutique-style spa with a great entrance, a main open room where the manicure and pedicure services are performed, four treatment rooms (one of which is equipped for two), two bathrooms, a shower room, and a special “boudoir” where facials manicures, and pedicures can be performed on a lush couch.

The idea behind the comfy, cozy environment is that you are in a Parisian carriage house. “We wanted it to have the warmth of a cozy living room,” says Oolie. “We want clients to be able to sink into the cushions and feel truly comfortable.”

The boudoir, tucked away in the back of the salon, is the ultimate in indulgence. A client can have her facial there while lying on the sofa, or three friends can have pedicures side by side, away from the rest of the spa.

The large open room in the center of the spa has three nail stations and space for six simultaneous pedicures. Pedicure clients sit on comfy cushions and soak their feet in galvanized Tuscan tubs. Manicures are performed at Victorian tables. At present there are only two nail techs, but Oolie stresses the need to hire more. “We don’t want it to be too crazy back there, but we have no room for more nail tables, and we would like to be able to do six to eight people at a time.”

Business at Just Calm Down has already increased after just two months in business. “People come in for a service and then buy their friends gift certificates. We have done really well with word-of-mouth referrals and the PR we are doing. We really haven’t had to do much advertising,” says Oolie.

BOW BEFORE THE QUEEN (OR KING): The idea behind Just Calm Down (the tagline is “A Jewel of Spa”) is that every client will be treated like royalty. The staff members are referred to as “royal specialists” and gift certificates are better known as “royal currency.” Everything at the spa is customizable – from service ingredients to half- and full-day packages to the music that clients listen to.

“We let clients pick the music they want to listen to in the treatment rooms and the boudoir,” says Oolie. Clients are given a music list to pick from when they come in for their appointment – ranging from classical to jazz to classic rock. Clients are also given a list of essential oils and their healing properties that they can choose to add to their treatments.

“We want every client to know that she is special. Everything can be customized to her specifics,” she says. “And if the client isn’t sure what she wants, our estheticians and techs can help walk her through her choice. She can smell all of the oils if she wants. We have great employees who are really into making the service special.

“The other interesting thing we offer is we don’t make up our spa packages. Basically, we say choose any three or four services and get 10% off the entire package, choose any five services and receive 15% off. People really like being able to customize their own packages. And we don’t want to dictate how they spend their spa day.”

Massages and facials have been popular since the spa opened, but the specialty manicures and pedicures are becoming more and more popular, especially with summer approaching. The menu boasts fabulous homemade manicure and pedicure services with names like Lady Godiva (warm milk and chocolate), Tease Me (green tea and mint leaves) Ambrosia (milk, honey, crème de coconut), and Milk Maiden (milk and lavender). All of the hand and foot treatments come with homemade sugar or salt scrubs and are mixed specially for each client with essential oils of her choice.

Every client leaves with a special “fingerprint” that details the services she received, products and oils used, and polish color selected (they even paint a swipe of polish on the sheet).

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