Spa Paradiso came about because Larry Schoonover bought his wife a gift card to a different Spokane spa that was about to close some 22 years ago.
The Schoonovers’ spa, which for most of its career massaged its living out of the basement of the Historic Davenport Hotel, is closing this month at 1237 W. Summit Parkway in Kendall Yards.
“It’s hard,” Jan Schoonover said. “I felt like we gave a contribution to the city of Spokane. It’s hard to say goodbye to something you felt successful about.”
Aug. 14 is the date the Spa Paradiso owners have given guests as a deadline to redeem their previously purchased gift cards.
However, the Schoonovers have worked out a deal with 7 Wonders Beauty Spa Wellness, 10 N. Evergreen Road in Spokane Valley, to allow customers to continue to use any leftover Spa Paradiso gift cards there.
“Ethically, we did not want to close the business without providing an opportunity for guests to use their gift cards,” Larry Schoonover said. “We are pleased we have this relationship with 7 Wonders.”
However, the 70-year-old could not bring himself to say Spa Paradiso is officially closing.
What is certain is the building in Kendall Yards where it’s located has been sold, and the sale allowed the Schoonovers to escape from their current lease without penalty.
“We really haven’t made a decision,” he said, regarding the couple’s future. “We’ve gone through the creation of two spas. (We) are not too excited to do it a third time.”
Gift card turned business
The Schoonovers came to Spokane in 1974. Larry was hired as director of exhibits at the Cheney Cowles Memorial Museum – renamed the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture after a 2001 expansion.
In 1999, Jan Schoonover was working as the personnel director at the local office of Ambassadors International Programs when her husband bought her a gift card to a spa that was in the basement of the Seafirst Financial Center, which became the Bank of America Financial Center in 2000 after a 1998 merger.
After she redeemed her card, the owner of the spa announced he was going to close the business at Seafirst.
Jan “really encouraged us to purchase the spa,” Larry Schoonover said. “She wanted a business that provided a safe opportunity for working women. She was really the mechanism that made it operate.”
The couple officially went into the spa business on July 1, 1999.
“We just didn’t want to have it go away and wait another 10 years for another nice spa to come along,” Jan Schoonover said. “We wanted to provide the sophistication that Seattle had.”
The Schoonovers operated their spa at its original Seafirst/Bank of America location for about two years before they had an opportunity in 2002 to move into the basement of the Historic Davenport Hotel, Larry Schoonover said.
“At the Davenport is where it really caught on,” he said. “The first couple of years, I think Spa Paradiso had an impact on the Davenport Hotel.”
“The Davenport was just making their change over to the beautiful building that it is today,” she said. “It was as simple as renting the space for a spa. But, it turned into something a lot bigger. I think we became well known and we had a good reputation.”
The location allowed visitors to book spas at the same time they booked hotel rooms.
“We really enjoyed our 10 years at the Davenport Hotel,” Larry Schoonover said. “It was a classic location. It was a joy to go down there.”
Spa Paradiso closed for a year in 2012.
“Then (in 2013) Kendall Yards came along,” Schoonover said. “It just looked like a great opportunity to move to a location with tremendous potential. Our building was one of the first commercial ventures.”
During the early years of the business, Larry Schoonover’s primary duties involved continuing to manage the museum. He retired from there in 2007.
“For much of that time, we were a family business,” he said. “Both of our daughters worked” at the spa.
Daughter Katie started in 2002, and Sarah joined in 2007. Both helped manage the spa and both left about two years ago.
“We always hired the best staff we could find. We took care of our staff, and we really took care of our guests,” Jan Schoonover said. “I really felt that was important.”
Pummeled by pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic hit most local businesses like a tsunami, especially those businesses that relied on close physical contact, Larry Schoonnover said.
Even after several months of mandated shutdowns, customers were slow to return once regulations permitted the spa to operate.
“Obviously, we are not the type of business where you can do social distancing,” Schoonover said. “Guests were reluctant to schedule services or use gift cards that they possessed, or purchase new gift cards.”
During the early months of reopening – and even now – the spa remains under constant threat of mandated shutdown.
“Even if you reopen for business and you have a guest who tests positive, or a technician that tests positive, you are really in a situation where you have to cancel appointments and reschedule appointments,” he said. “It’s inefficient to run the business that way. You, unfortunately, irritate someone.”
While the spa has been, more or less, back to fully open, the business outlook changed.
“We did try very hard to get everything back on track,” Jan Schoonover said. “But we could never quite get ahead like we need to to keep going. COVID helped us make the decision.”
And the lease situation forced the couple to make a decision.
“As we looked at each other in the eye, we decided it probably was a good idea to retire,” he said. “Again, the old line: All good things must come to an end.
“It’s been fun,” he continued. “I probably shouldn’t have purchased that gift card in the late 1990s for my wife.”
Jan, 71, said she doesn’t regret anything.
“We really tried to make the spa nice and a desirable place for people to visit and feel special,” she said. “It’s emotional and it’s, of course, bittersweet. But it’s also nice to feel like you finally get to retire.”
Larry Schoonover said he’ll especially miss watching clients fall into happy bliss.
“My greatest joy was watching women having a pedicure fall asleep during the service,” he said. “That was a good feeling to give people a few moments of total relaxation.”
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