New spa targets men for self-care, comfort
New London — Jonathan Ayala is someone who likes to keep himself clean and smelling good, and he was growing frustrated at his inability to find quality men's products, other than ones that are mass-produced.
He could sell these products but the margins would be too low to just offer retail. After doing some research, Ayala realized there aren't male-targeted grooming options in Connecticut aside from barbershops. Plus, he wants men to feel comfortable in such a setting.
"For me being a guy, I don't feel uncomfortable because I'm uncomfortable in the place; I feel uncomfortable for the women that are in there because I don't want them to feel uncomfortable," he said. Ayala doesn't want to feel like he's "infiltrating in their bubble."
These thought processes led him to found Fresh Men Spa Lounge, for which the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday. A live jazz band will play, and Ayala will sell raffle tickets for two baskets, each of which includes an assortment of products and a $50 gift certificate.
The ribbon-cutting is listed for noon to 2:30 p.m., though Ayala said the lounge probably will stay open until 4 or 4:30 p.m. Visitors can book appointments at the 153 Bank St. spot, and Ayala, who also serves as the city clerk in New London, hopes to start offering services on Tuesday.
Options include manicures, pedicures, paraffin treatments and waxing, with prices ranging from $15 to $65. The spa will grow to include massage therapy. It also sells products such as soaps and shampoos from brands like O'Douds and Menaji.
With Fresh Men Spa Lounge, Ayala wants people to challenge traditional norms of manliness and masculinity.
"What I really wanted to say was it's OK for you to have a day where you can come and relax," he said. "You don't have to feel like you're trapped because you're so concerned with people's perception of your masculinity."
He recognizes that there will always be some stigma against men going to spas but he thinks environment and ambiance are key ingredients to making the stigma fade — and Fresh Men is not short on either.
Ayala doesn't have anything against the earthy, new age music played in many spas but wanted to create his own lane by playing jazz.
To honor the building's past as Modern Electric, Ayala kept the company name etched onto the floor in the entranceway, and the walls above the eight pedicure chairs are decorated with patents.
TV screens hang on the opposite wall from each chair, paired with headphones and a remote control.
Ayala purposefully put the lounge area — a couch and chairs surrounding a coffee table with coffee table books on Frank Sinatra and whiskey — in the back, so that passersby and those entering aren't first seeing people waiting.
To him, seeing what's going on inside is an important facet for an area with such a transient population, between students and the military.
Raised in New London, Ayala always has wanted to start his own business and it's what he prepared for in school. The 36-year-old holds a bachelor's degree in management and a master's in organizational management, both from Eastern Connecticut State University.
Before that, he served in the Army from 2001 to 2007, a time that included a deployment for Operation Enduring Freedom. His respect for service members is reflected in his new business, with military discounts, the custom-made wooden flag hanging on the wall and a desire to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Fresh Men has a designated wheelchair area at the front. Ayala also wants women to know that despite the name, they are welcome in his business, if they feel comfortable there.
While Ayala is marketing the location toward men, he said Fresh Men is "in no way, shape or form saying that no one else can come and enjoy it."
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