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

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17 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2016 at 9:59 am

Really thought the changes at Watercourse Way were an April Fool's joke. Now the "artwork" on the walls is from Pulp Fiction, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Count Dracula ???

Murder and monsters are definitely NOT spa-like or relaxing. Completely bizarre. Unappealing to every demographic they supposedly serve, unless 9-year old boys are their new target market.

Definitely won't go there anymore.

12 people like this
Posted by Forewarned is Forearmed
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 28, 2016 at 1:47 pm

Just be aware that as lovely as it is, Essentique is very, very expensive. It would have to be in order to pay for such exorbitant rent in such a bad location.

[Portion removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by A Menlo Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 28, 2016 at 4:20 pm

A Menlo Park Resident is a registered user.

I have a gift certificate for Watercouse Way, but I will not go there if they change the artwork. When I go for a massage I'm seeking a peaceful, tranquil environment. I feel the new artwork should be in a different venue -- not at a spa.

4 people like this
Posted by Andrea
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 28, 2016 at 4:38 pm

In regards to concerns expressed above about the new art at Watercourse Way, did *anyone* see the sentence "All three prints will grace the walls of the soothing, zen-like spa until the end of the year." This translates to one month. So, relax you guys. Your favorite mellow art will be back.

2 people like this
Posted by Tyler Hanley
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 29, 2016 at 10:20 am

I would urge neighbor and Menlo Park Resident not to "throw out the baby with the bath water," so to speak. The exhibit will only run through the end of December and the artwork is very tasteful, done by some of the most celebrated poster artists working today. All of the prints are extremely limited and signed by the artists.

Also, the exhibit is restricted to the lobby and first-floor hallway and is not on display in any of the private hot tub rooms, spa or massage rooms. Our primary goal will always be to provide a peaceful, relaxing experience and excellent customer service. And we will continue to support the diverse and vibrant arts community. Thank you for reading, and much appreciation to Daryl Savage and the Weekly for the thoughtful article.

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