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The California Wildfires and The Spa Industry

By Camille Hoheb
Posted: January 21, 2008, from the January 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Author’s note: Through conversation with peers in the industry, I was intrigued with their stories of evacuation, closures and affected lives. It was then that I realized how widespread and reaching the impact was on the industry—from spas, to esthetic schools, to skin care manufacturers and beyond. My interviews were conducted both by phone conversations and through e-mails, and represent a cross section of skin care professionals spanning from Simi Valley, California, to San Diego. Many thanks to those who shared their stories in the midst of picking up the pieces and moving toward normalizing their daily lives at work and at home.

This article was born out of an interest to share the experiences of skin care professionals affected by the California wildfires. During October and November 2007, most Americans couldn’t avoid watching the nonstop news coverage of the blazes and be stunned at the images of devastation. More than 2,000 homes were destroyed, approximately 700,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and nearly a dozen deaths and 100 injuries occurred.
     To first understand the magnitude of the fires, consider that, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), two weeks after the wildfires, more than $5.6 million in federal funds were provided to individuals and families affected by the disaster. This money can be used to find temporary housing, rebuild or repair damage, replace property not covered by insurance and help with other necessary disaster-related expenses. Following is FEMA’s at-a-glance summary, published on November 23, 2007, about the recovery efforts.

17,776 Californians registered for disaster.
$9.7 million in grants were approved for Californians, including $6.9 million for housing and $2.8 million for other needs assistance.
$38 million in U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans have been provided to individuals and businesses.
7,566 home inspections have been completed in the disaster-designated counties.
13,068 people have visited assistance centers seeking disaster assistance and mitigation information in English and many other languages. SBA representatives are also onsite to assist with loan applications for homeowners, renters and business owners.
16,677 residents and 4,585 businesses have received disaster assistance information from FEMA’s Community Relations teams.
A grant of $822,438 has been approved for the California Department of Mental Health for crisis-counseling services for victims, which is available for those who live or work in disaster-affected counties.

Spas
  Following are personal accounts from a variety of spas in the areas of California affected by the wildfires.

  Coldwater Creek The Spa, Simi Valley, California. “A lot of smoke and some cancellations,” was how Lori Marcus, assistant spa director, described the affect of the wildfires on Coldwater Creek The Spa in Simi Valley. With only 30 cancellations during a three-day period, the business experienced no property damage or significant business interruption.

  Luminesse Medical Spa, Carmel Valley, California. Luminesse had just opened its doors August 25, 2007. Richard Swoy, owner of Luminesse, did all the right things to protect his business in the event of an unforeseeable occurrence, which included obtaining business interruption insurance. The spa was closed for a week, during which time Swoy estimates more than 50 cancellations. An evacuation had been mandated by government authorities but the business interruption insurance required 72 hours of mandated evacuation before the policy kicked into effect. The adjuster explained to Swoy that it didn’t matter if the business was closed for five days—no coverage was provided.
     Upon returning to the spa, Swoy assessed the damage, which mostly consisted of soot and smoke residue and remnants of an errant canopy that was found in a tree in an adjacent parking lot. The canopy had been a crowning feature used to create a relaxing space for massage on the second-floor patio during the warm months. Robyn Delagado, massage therapist, described returning to Luminesse and finding a “sooty, black mess.” During the temporary closure of the business throughout the mandatory evacuation period, Delagado’s massage therapy schedule was affected both during the temporary closure of the business and after, as well. She pointed out that most residents are still working toward putting their lives back in order and that, although she believed massage would help with the healing process, most clients felt it was self-indulgent. Delagado further explained that the wildfires claimed the homes of 60 children at the school her children attend. Ending on an up note, Swoy said, “I’m really proud of my staff members. We were really put in a unique situation where it was literally almost baptism by fire. We dusted ourselves off and have re-opened for business, which is picking up now. We have holiday and New Year’s promotions, and look forward to a healthy 2008.”

     Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa, Rancho Santa Fe, California. To set the stage, Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa is one of the premier luxury California resorts, featuring a spa and an award-winning restaurant. “The fires were right in our backyard and roughly a mile from our property. We were right in its path,” explains spa director, Michelle Hill. “Ambers were flying and the winds can carry them up one to two miles, so it was a real danger.” The facility has an amazing tale of evacuation, cleanup and reopening.
On Monday morning, October 22, 2007, before mandatory evacuation, the resort closed and hotel guests were moved to Rancho Valencia’s sister property 10 miles away in La Jolla, California. Wednesday, the clean up began. “Extensive smoke and ash more than an inch thick” required two days of extensive labor to clean up and get the property back into shape. By Friday, Rancho Valencia was open for business. According to Hill, “Some of the locals who had previously scheduled spa appointments for Friday said they had to commend the Valencia staff on how immaculate the business looked in comparison to their homes, which were smoky and sooty.” Cancellations were estimated to be in the range of 200–300 throughout a five-day period.
    “Although there were cancellations, business started picking up with weekend activity. When asked what advice she would impart to other spa owners, Hill says, “Be aware. Listen to news reports. Evacuate when told. Have a three-to-five day supply of food and clothing in your car and get going.” What was very clear was the amazing coordination of efforts during the emergency, and how proud Hill was of her peers and her community. “The whole community came out in droves to help each other. I am proud to be a San Diegian!”

Suppliers
    Following are personal accounts from a few industry suppliers and manufacturers affected by the wildfires.