Sowers and her husband Joel have been working since March 2013 to transform the old Moody Funeral Home building on Sylva’s Main Street into the new home of Fusions Spa. It’s been a long road.
“We kept asking ourselves through the entire process, ‘Why are we doing this? Tell me again why we’re doing this,’” Sowers said.
Built in 1946, the building had its share of issues to be fixed and innards to be updated, with the renovation process featuring multiple “surprises,” each of which set the timeline for completion back anywhere from six to eight months. There were times when it seemed the building would never be ready for massages or facials or soaks or any of the other services the couple aspired to offer.
But two days after the Aug. 9 soft opening, business seemed to be humming along at the comfortable, Zen-like pace one would expect of a spa. Herbal aromas float through the sunny reception area and waft down the hall into the treatment rooms. Soft music plays through the speaker system and sinks into the cushions of equally soft chairs and pillows. Nature photography, much of it from local artists, adorns the walls, and fresh flowers and carefully chosen knickknacks inhabit every corner.
“We’re going to calm Jackson County,” Sowers declared.
From herbal body wraps to chemical peels to a whole menu of massage treatments, Fusions certainly offers a long list of ways to get relaxed and focused on health. And as the business settles into its new space, the list is destined to get longer. Salt treatments to treat respiratory problems, beer baths, mineral and detox baths, raindrop oil treatment, reiki healing and foot soaks are all on the way. Sowers plans to offer yoga down the road, and memberships are already available for a fitness center that’s open in Fusions’ downstairs. Seminars and speakers will soon begin popping up to offer their expertise on a variety of nutrition- and health-related issues.
The spa, which takes up 7,500 square feet of the 11,000-square-foot building — the rest of the building is office space for the Sowers’ other business — employs nine people.
Judging by the gusto with which the Sowers have sunk themselves into renovating one of Sylva’s most visible downtown buildings, it might be easy to assume that owning a spa has been a lifelong dream. But the reality is that it just sort of happened.
The couple also owns Sundog Realty, and they’d purchased some property in Cullowhee with an eye to create a resort community. Fusions went up for sale, and they bought the business thinking they’d learn how to run it and then relocate it to the resort they planned to build. But the post-recession economy proved too poor to support a new resort, and they discovered that the logistics surrounding water use would make it too difficult to have a spa in Cullowhee anyway.
“We thought, ‘OK, we own a spa. We’ll do what we can and grow it as a business,’” Sowers said.
That’s not to say that Sowers is a novice when it comes to spas. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“I’m a spa-goer from way back,” she said.
As a developer, Joel Sowers has worked on resort properties around the world, and Jeannine has traveled with him. It was a privilege to go along on these adventures, Sowers said, but she was always dealing with pain as she traveled.
“By the time you go through the airport I’d be a basket case,” she said. “By the time we got where we were going, the spa treatment was the first thing I booked.”
The spa allowed her to relax, get rid of the pain, and enjoy the trip.
And, as it turned out, gather a wealth of knowledge on worldwide spa treatments that she put to use in planning the rebirth of Fusions.
“Once you start going to spas it’s just something you’ve got to keep doing,” she said. “It’s just wonderful. So I’ve tried to create an atmosphere here that combines my favorite parts of a spa in one stop.”
In addition to the services themselves, there are the spaces surrounding them. A relaxation room to unwind before a treatment or extend the relaxation afterward. A core-stretching machine to enhance the benefits of massage with a mini-workout before and after. A wifi tearoom — Sowers hopes to sell beer and wine there eventually — to enjoy a hot beverage and wrap up any cell phone business before entering the “no phones allowed” portion of the building.
“There’s different places throughout the spa that provide different kinds of experiences so that each time you come to the spa you can relax in a totally different way,” Sowers said.
Inside, the building is basically brand new. But the character of the 1940s is something the Sowers worked to maintain during the renovations — she had had her eye on the gorgeous brick building for a while before the purchase, pointing it out to her husband just about every time they drove by.
They thought about it, and decided it wasn’t going to be practical or affordable to turn the space into a spa.
“Then some crazy day we changed our minds and started it,” she said.
They paid $435,000 for the property and wound up sinking about $1.5 million — over the course of more than two years of work — into renovating its 11,000 square feet.
The process wasn’t easy, but the result — a beautiful building, expanded business and boosted downtown — is worth it, Sowers said. She sees a downtown Sylva that’s on the upswing and hopes that Fusions won’t be the only business to give an old building new life.
“I don’t want to be the only person downtown that has a great building,” she said. “I want everybody to have a great building.”
Check it out
Fusions Spa, now located at 714 Main Street, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. A variety of treatments and membership packages are available and can be reserved either online or over the phone.
828.631.0232 or www.fusionsspa.com.