Health  |  News

“About 45 Percent of Our Income Comes From Me”: What It’s Like to Be a Spa Owner in DC Right Now

Sarah Howell locked up her Volta Esthetics + Massage Lab in the earliest days of social distancing.

Photograph courtesy of Flickr user InterContinental Hong Kong.
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

Washingtonian is keeping you up to date on the coronavirus around DC.

Sarah Howell, 34, of Del Ray, who owns the Georgetown spa Volta Esthetics + Massage Lab, on how Covid-19 has affected her business: 

“I opened the spa in October of 2015. We do massages, facials, and waxing. The first time I remember hearing about [Covid-19] was in late December, early January—hearing what’s going on in China. It definitely did not cross my mind this would happen here. But probably about a month ago is when I really started to pay attention to reports saying you need to start preparing yourself to hunker down, make sure you have food, things like that. So it’s funny—I did go out and buy extra food for my house, but I still felt silly. I still was like this isn’t going to happen. Then I was talking to my dad about it and he was like, you need to start thinking financially, what is this going to do if you can’t work? That was about a month ago.

“In this industry at this time of year, we’re [typically] staying safe for ourselves and our clients [and trying not] to spread the cold and flu. So my initial feeling was well, this is fine because I have to do everything to stay safe every year anyways. I pulled out all of our cleaning supplies, rechecked them, Googled around to see if there’s anything extra I should be doing. We sent out an email reassuring my clients that legally we’re required to have certain sanitation protocols and we’ve reevaluated it and upped it. I sent that email out on Thursday, March 12, and by the time I would have gone back to work on Monday, March 15, I had cancelled all my appointments. 

“A lot changed in those three days. People have been cancelling as far as into April. Friday the 13th is when the national emergency was declared, and I think just all our understandings of what we needed to do shifted. Some people were willing to come in. I considered taking them just because of the financial hit, but I ended up cancelling all the appointments. I just felt it wasn’t safe. There was a press conference that said DC had 350 ICU beds and there’s [over] 700,000 people that live in DC. I can’t ethically be touching people’s bodies right now and possibly be contributing to the spread. 

“I have failed to bring in probably $3,500 this week. A fourth of what my business brings in [a month]. My husband works for the federal government, so that’s good. He’s got that coming in. But about 45 percent of our household [income] comes from me. Right now, we have enough savings to be okay for a little while, but it’s going to depend on how long this lasts. We have a mortgage and I have bills associated with my business to pay. I could probably keep my business afloat, by making lots of sacrifices, for about five months. 

“I did a special on gift cards and an option to buy products online, but the product sales are minimal for what my business brings in. I did a big order this week and it was such a hassle. It was just not worth it at all. My regulars are buying gift cards. I’ve had so many people ask how they can help or ask if I’m doing okay or if my business is okay. That made me feel like when we get to the other side and I open again, I know that my clients are coming back to me. And that gives me some relief. 

“It’s been a struggle. Some days have been spiraling anxiety and panic. Some days have just been trying to organize. I’ve been baking a lot. I’ve been taking the neighborhood kids to hike on little nature trails to get them out of the house and let their parents have an hour or two of quiet time. I knew somebody who thought they might have the virus, and so they were quarantining themselves, so I brought them some groceries and left them outside. I’ve just been trying to help people where I can. Everybody is struggling, and in a weird way, that gives me a little bit of comfort because I’m not in this alone. We’re all going through it.”

Get Our Health Newsletter

How to stay fit, eat smart, and live well in Washington.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Associate Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She previously was the editorial assistant at Walter Magazine in Raleigh, North Carolina, and her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Adams Morgan.