Shop Talk: Essentique opens; Watercourse Way redecorates

This week's retail news in Palo Alto

A look at Essentique, a new beauty store on Park Boulevard, and new, unconventional artwork at Watercourse Way in downtown Palo Alto.

LIVING WALL FEATURED IN BOUTIQUE ... Mandana Navi is all about passion, gratefulness and kindness, and her new retail store in Palo Alto reflects those qualities. Essentique, which opened in September at 2417 Park Blvd., produces and sells small-batch, artisanal beauty products. The shop, within shouting distance of two hair salons and two restaurants, provides a refreshing contrast to the otherwise fast pace of the Cal Ave neighborhood. Replacing a former tanning studio with a lengthy renovation of the 1,200-square-foot space, the redo has created a clean, crisp, peaceful, intentional environment. As customers walk through the front door, they are greeted by a living wall, a six-foot-by-eight-foot leafy work of art that was installed by the same company that created the living wall at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which, by the way, has the distinction of being the largest living wall in the country. "Ours was installed seven months before we even opened and they come every other week to maintain it. Customers love it. It's the first thing they notice," Navi said. The green living wall is just one more detail of the many environmental touches Navi has chosen to furnish her space during the two-year, $200,000 renovation. Other furnishings include a natural walnut floor and cabinetry surrounded by stones and pebbles. "We wanted to mimic nature," she said. Born in Iran and educated in Canada, Navi has lived in Palo Alto for seven years. A large portion of the hair-, skin- and body-care products she sells are made in her lab, which takes up one-third of the space. Her background in biology and work experience in the health care industry come into play as she spends time in the shop's lab, developing the handmade items that are on display, such as scented shampoos, body lotion, and hair products. "We make only small batches; that way everything stays fresh," said Navi, who emphasizes how meticulous she is about her products. Navi, who is in her boutique seven days a week, says, "The moment I stepped into the space, I knew this was it. I'm in my element. I belong here."

MASSAGE MEETS COUNT DRACULA ... Watercourse Way, Palo Alto's 36-year-old health spa at 165 Channing Ave., is doing something rather un-spa-like. Acknowledging its unconventionality, Watercourse Way administrator Tyler Hanley (former online editor of the Palo Alto Weekly) said, "We've decided to remove all of our peaceful, serene, tranquil prints from the walls and replace them with an exhibition of pop culture and film prints."

And not just any pop culture and film prints. Think "The Creature From the Black Lagoon," and "Count Dracula," and "Pulp Fiction." All three prints will grace the walls of the soothing, zen-like spa until the end of the year. Also included in the 14 works of art are prints from "The Dark Knight" and "Fight Club." But will people who are accustomed to walking into Watercourse Way for a massage or facial or hot tub even notice? "Oh yes. They notice. It's very different from what they expect," Hanley said. Much of the artwork is located in the small retail shop of Watercourse Way. Although the bulk of the merchandise relates to the spa, such as scented soaps, lotions and candles, the big surprise is the store's most popular item. It's a little jar of gel for muscle aches called Sombra.

"A lot of people come in here just for that," said retail manager Afton Williams. At a cost of $8 for two ounces, Williams said, "We have trouble keeping it in stock. I've never seen it sold in any other store. We get calls to ship it everywhere. It's our biggest seller." The artwork (not all of which is sinister or dark) is limited editions and considered valuable to collectors. They belong to spa co-owner John Roberts and to manager Nathan Hanley, who is Tyler's identical twin. "It's definitely not spa-centric, said Hanley, "but the prints and posters are meant to be appreciated, perhaps inspire discussion, and reflect our love for the arts."

Got leads on interesting and news-worthy retail developments? Daryl Savage will check them out. Email shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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