November 19, 2017

Future Tense: Amazon Key Is a Lot Less Scary Than My Post-1-Click Remorse

So, too, may more information about our choices, according to a 2008 study, “The Blissful Ignorance Effect: Pre‐ versus Post‐Action Effects on Outcome Expectancies Arising From Precise and Vague Information,” published in The Journal of Consumer Research. Researchers found that the less knowledge consumers had about something before a purchase, the better they expected it to be — and the more they convinced themselves that they liked it afterward.

This reduction of cognitive dissonance is easier inside and after leaving a store, which never reveals anything negative about its products and doesn’t typically burden the consumer with an onslaught of information that might impede an impulse purchase. But the sprawling internet bazaar is filled with scathing critiques, and every pertinent spec exists somewhere online for the diligent buyer to seek out. That one-star rating is hard to forget when your product is failing in the exact way the unhappy reviewer described.

The most obvious difference between brick-and-mortar and online shopping is physicality, both of the item itself and the consumer’s presence in the store. Beyond the potential pitfall of not getting exactly what you thought you were buying online, a problem that is minimized when you can assess the product in person, the lack of tactile interaction may reduce our connection to the object.

Martin Lindstrom, the author of several books on branding, has conducted studies on what makes consumers buy a product and how they feel about it after. In one, 34 percent of people who asked an employee for a product in a supermarket and were made to touch it ended up buying it; just 21 percent did if the employee merely pointed it out to them.

In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of 20 subjects, when the senses of smell and touch were paired with pictures of a product, the right medial orbitofrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in the perception of pleasantness, was activated more strongly than when those senses were independently engaged. (On its own, smell was the most important sense.)

The tactile experience doesn’t end in the checkout line. After purchasing an item, the consumer typically takes it home. This act of carrying it into one’s domestic space can bolster one’s proprietary pride: You are now responsible for its existence in your world. That act, plus roaming through aisles beforehand and going from shop to shop, can also be physically and mentally tiring.

But ordering online for an anonymous deliveryman to leave the item at one’s doorstep — or, with the help of Amazon Key, just inside — is impersonal and not enervating. It’s the difference between the estrangement of ordering takeout and the intimacy of cooking for oneself. And a pavement-pounding, shop-till-you-drop marathon may recall an even more primal method for acquiring nutrients.

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“You’re coming back to hunters and gatherers,” Mr. Lindstrom said of in-store purchases. “Dopamine kicks in when we’re buying stuff — there’s a reptile brain that tells us we need to gather things before winter happens. The more we have to fight for things, the less likely we are to return it after. When it’s delivered on Amazon Prime, you forget it was so hard to get this product.”

The tactility of how one finalizes the transaction itself can have an effect on remorse, too. Mr. Lindstrom found that 93 percent of consumers feel a stronger connection to cash than to credit cards and are more careful when spending with it. Likewise, for the least tactile connection he studied, Amazon’s 1-Click Ordering, 70 percent of respondents said it made them spend more money than even with a credit card.

But whereas cash-based transactions lead to more immediate remorse, 89 percent of shoppers said they feel guiltier when they receive their credit card statements after 1-Click orders than when they pay in cash. The remorse still exists with online shopping; it’s just deferred, with extra pain later.

Shopping on a website featuring attractive models or beautiful homes may engender the same sense of inadequacy that leafing through catalogs can, unlike picking them up in person, and that visual memory may linger when the object has been delivered, leading to remorse. Buying something online can also lead quickly to a social-media search after the fact for friends’ and strangers’ superior products (or “better” use of the same product).

The sneakers I bought in this troublesomely bottomless marketplace were for casual wear, but I also needed a new pair of running shoes, a purchase that I undertook with more serious online research: reading reviews from specialized publications and individual users, comparing models from different years, taking quizzes to determine what was best for my particular stride.

But even the highest-rated sneakers had their detractors, and those damning, all-caps review headlines (“SHODDILY MADE,” “THEY RUINED IT”) made me hesitate whenever I was on the verge of adding them to my virtual shopping cart.

A week after searching in vain and the ensuing deluge of targeted ads, I visited a nearby running store. I tried on a few pairs and solicited opinions from one employee, then picked the sneakers that felt best.

Within 20 minutes I was walking out with them, glad to have given my money to a local business over a soulless national chain. There is undoubtedly a better running shoe out there for me, and I could probably find it if I spent enough time scouring the internet. But je ne regrette rien.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/28/style/amazon-key-1-click-buyers-remorse.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Chickens Come Home to Roost on Long Island’s North Fork

Mr. Browder is a fugitive from a 20-year banking career. The Browders sell the poultry and eggs at their farm and at other farmstands, stores and restaurants. The sheep are kept for their wool, which supplies the $250 hand-knit sweaters in their store.

A more exotic population of poultry is in the care of Abra Morawiec at Feisty Acres Farm in Jamesport on the fallow fields of the Biophilia Organic Farm, where she also works part time. She nurtures hundreds of bobwhite and Japanese quail, fluffy Chinese black-skinned Silkie chickens, guinea hens, partridge and heritage breed turkeys. The Browders process her game birds.

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She got into farming with a degree in English literature after a stint in the Peace Corps in Mali, where she worked on a farm. She sells some of her birds at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays. Some of her bobwhite quail, which were once native to the area, are being released into the wild, where they eat ticks.

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Hal Goodale, who returned 10 years ago to the 40 acres at the eastern edge of Riverhead that had been in his family since the 1800s, is making cheese and raising livestock. “I didn’t want to get into farming just to raise cabbages, cauliflower and potatoes like they were doing years ago,” he said. “But I saw that there was no local meat or dairy.”

He started with four goats and two cows, and now has 200 goats and 50 cows as well as chickens, sheep and pigs. There’s a store at the farm stocked mostly with dairy products, including fresh cheeses like ricotta, and ice cream, along with pork products like bacon. Most of what Mr. Goodale produces is sold through a C.S.A. “We’re the personal farmers for about 200 families,” he said.

The towns and hamlets where these farmers are located have accepted the livestock as their neighbors. But less than 30 miles away, in Orient, the easternmost part of the North Fork, the community is holding a petitioning campaign over a 34.5-acre farm that a New York restaurant chain, Freshco, is establishing on bayside land to raise vegetables and animals to supply its kitchens. All but five acres is preserved farmland.

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Abra Morawiec with a partridge at Feisty Acres in Jamesport Credit Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

Troy Gustavson, the former publisher of The Suffolk Times newspaper and an Orient resident for the last 40 years, said the chief objections involve raising pigs on acreage that is part wetland. “It’s a protected bay area, and we’re concerned about the manure and the runoff,” Mr. Gustavson said. “This is farmland and they want to farm. We’re not anti-agriculture, but the quality of the groundwater and the bay has to be taken into account.” Some of the wetlands are shellfish breeding grounds.

Another issue is what is called agritainment, concerns over crowds and traffic on country roads as the Freshco property becomes a tourist attraction with various festivities. On weekends, the North Fork’s roads are already choked with crowds visiting wineries for weddings and other celebrations, not just to sample the latest bottlings.

“Their application did not mention events and festivals, but their website does,” Mr. Gustavson said. Freshco has also announced plans to build a 9,000-square-foot barn on the property.

The petition opposing the Freshco plans has been signed by more than 900 people so far, The Suffolk Times has reported. The Town of Southold Planning Department (which has jurisdiction over Orient) and the State Department of Environmental Conservation are reviewing Freshco’s proposal. A spokeswoman for Freshco said the company declined to comment.

North Fork Farms to Visit

These North Fork farms welcome visitors. Call ahead to check hours and availability of products.

BROWDER’S BIRDS, 4050 Soundview Avenue, Mattituck, browdersbirds.com, 631-599-3394.

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DEEP ROOTS FARM, 57685 Route 25, Southold, 631-745-7928.

8 HANDS FARM, 4735 Cox Lane, Cutchogue, 8handsfarm.com, 631-533-2768.

FEISTY ACRES, 211 Manor Lane, Jamesport, feistyacres.com.

GOODALE FARMS, 250 Main Road, Riverhead, goodalefarms.com, 631-901-5975.

MCCALL WINES, 22600 Main Road, Cutchogue, mccallwines.com, 631-734-5764.

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Correction: October 23, 2017

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the game birds from Feisty Acres Farms. They are in fact processed by the Browders of Browder’s Birds; they are not taken out of state for processing.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/dining/livestock-returns-to-north-fork-farms-long-island.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Entrepreneurship: As ‘Unicorns’ Emerge, Utah Makes a Case for Tech Entrepreneurs

“Founders viewed their companies like they’re building the family business or a farm — they’re building them to keep,” said Ryan Smith, the founder of Qualtrics, a data analytics company that focuses on surveys and other research for corporate and academic clients. “With no outside funding, there’s no lifeline and you have to figure it out on your own.”

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One reason for the growth, said Mark Gorenberg, a venture capitalist with Zetta Venture Partners in San Francisco, is the emphasis that some start-ups have placed on data analytics — a growing field that has helped put the state on the map. E-commerce companies, as well as those specializing in medical devices and cloud computing, have also flourished.

As the local tech community has grown, local venture capital firms have formed in the state, providing seed money as well as participating in later funding rounds. According to CB Insights, more than $2.6 billion has been invested in the 10 most well-funded companies in Utah.

“The region transformed from a recreation area with some tech companies to a full tech ecosystem,” said Mr. Gorenberg, whose firm has invested in three Utah-based companies.

In a state where 59 percent of residents describe themselves as active Mormons, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a presence in the start-up scene as well. Many company founders are members, and while the church does not directly invest in individual companies, said Doug Andersen, a spokesman for the church, the emphasis on family permeates many start-ups in the area.

Some say the Mormon culture fosters a collaborative spirt among the area’s tech community, and the founders of unicorns regularly get together. Last month, for example, several founders worked until 3 a.m. at Mr. Smith’s home, organizing a January conference meant to coincide with the Sundance Film Festival in Utah — an effort to create a tech and entertainment conference similar to the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex.

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From left, the chief executives Dave Elkington of InsideSales.com, Mr. James of Domo, Aaron Skonnard of Pluralsight and Ryan Smith of Qualtrics holding a strategy session at Mr. James’s house last month. Credit Kim Raff for The New York Times

Mr. Smith’s father, Scott, started Qualtrics in 2002 to help businesses measure customer and client satisfaction; the younger Mr. Smith joined the nascent company while an undergraduate at Brigham Young University after doctors diagnosed cancer in his father (who has since recovered). His older brother Jared, an executive at Google, joined several years later.

The company, which has received funding from Accel Partners, Sequoia Capital and Insight Venture Partners, now has a valuation of $2.5 billion. Mr. Smith said it had annual revenue above $250 million, with corporate clients including Microsoft and Marriott International.

At Pluralsight, a company focusing on tech training, the trajectory was similar. Aaron Skonnard, its chief executive, founded the company with three others, each putting in $5,000 to initially develop in-person training programs.

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The four traveled worldwide for their programs until Mr. Skonnard realized that it would be more efficient to train clients online; by 2011, the company had begun offering only virtual training, walking away from half of its $1.5 million in revenue. But the switch paid off. Pluralsight began receiving outside funding in 2012 from venture capital firms such as Insight Venture and Iconiq Capital. The company, now valued at more than $1 billion, estimated that revenues will reach $190 million this year.

Only Domo, which Mr. James founded in 2010, has had a more typical trajectory. His track record at Omniture, which went public in 2006 and was later purchased by Adobe for $1.8 billion, allowed him to secure outside financing more quickly. Domo, which provides a cloud-based platform for executives to gain access to a range of data, has received roughly $684 million in funding from investors including BlackRock, Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital.

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Now, the start-ups are dealing with the challenges to growth that others in tech face: recruiting new engineers and programmers, as well as seasoned executives.

It is one area where the companies outwardly compete, especially as they seek to improve their diversity. And the hiring needs can be significant. Pluralsight, for example, this month announced plans to add 2,400 new jobs over the next decade and move from Farmington to a new campus south of Salt Lake City, closer to the other tech companies.

The local universities have played an important role in fostering homegrown talent. Brigham Young, the private university affiliated with the Mormon Church, and the public University of Utah have programs intended to develop young entrepreneurs.

But as demand for talent has grown, it has also meant companies have needed to recruit outside Utah.

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Workers inside the offices at Qualtrics. Mr. Smith was a student at Brigham Young University when he joined the company, which his father had started in 2002. Credit Kim Raff for The New York Times
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In Utah, Mr. Smith said, “founders viewed their companies like they’re building the family business or a farm — they’re building them to keep.” Credit Kim Raff for The New York Times

Their pitch often involves promoting the accessibility of outdoor activities, including hiking and skiing. Jaunts to Park City, the ski town, are common, and many choose to settle in that area. Besides, the office spaces of many of these companies typify the start-up ethos: abundant food, table tennis and pool tables, and, at Qualtrics, even an indoor basketball court.

The companies emphasize their philanthropic efforts. Pluralsight, for example, recently pledged $10 million for computer science education. Qualtrics is spending at least $10 million over three years to sponsor the Utah Jazz basketball team’s jerseys, which, in lieu of its corporate brand, will display the logo for “5 for the Fight,” the company’s global effort to encourage cancer research donations.

The companies also talk up the growth of their competitors, to assure recruits that many opportunities exist within the state if an employee — at any level — wants to make a move. There are more than 4,000 tech companies in the state, according to figures from the governor’s office; Mr. James, who employs 810 people at Domo, sometimes suggests that those interviewing speak to others in the region.

“I want them to know that re-deployability isn’t an issue,” he said.

The efforts have paid off, Mr. Smith said. This year alone, his company has hired 150 people who moved from outside the state.

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Joy Driscoll Durling, the chief information and digital enablement officer at Vivint Smart Home, was working at Adobe in California when she had the opportunity to move to Utah, where Adobe established offices after its acquisition of Omniture.

“No one in my family could believe I was even considering it,” she said, “but my family and I appreciate the outdoors.”

And while they briefly considered returning to the Bay Area, they have stayed because of both work-life balance and the career opportunities. In March, Ms. Durling left Adobe and joined Vivint, which provides home security and automation products.

Apart from lifestyle, the potential for an initial public offering helps with recruiting — and legitimacy. Farrah Kim, a spokeswoman for CB Insights, said the best “way to jump-start a start-up ecosystem is for a cluster of big exits to emerge,” whether through deals or I.P.O.s.

Four of the unicorns are considering I.P.O.s, according to the founders, although none would talk about specific plans. The choppy performance of the recent I.P.O.s of Snap and Blue Apron has not appeared to deter them. (Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Blackstone, which owns Vivint Home, plans to pursue either an I.P.O. or a merger for the company. Representatives of both Blackstone and Vivint declined to comment.)

The public markets afford companies more capital for growth, whether organic or through acquisitions, Mr. James said. And, he added, an I.P.O. enhances a company’s profile because it shows that the business has been vetted by bankers and lawyers.

“One day, people think you’re a cute entrepreneur,” he said. “But you’re treated dramatically different once you’re public.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/business/smallbusiness/tech-start-ups-utah.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Entrepreneurship: A Paintbrush in One Hand, and a Drink in the Other

“We don’t really see this trend ending anytime soon,” said Marci Freede, who opened the Paint Place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 2014 and added a second location, in Astoria, Queens, last year.

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Paper plates served as palettes at Painting With a Twist. “It’s just relaxing,” said a woman who attended a session in August. “I’m a teacher’s aide, so I need some stress-free time.” Credit Beth Hall for The New York Times
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Katie Collins, Ms. Jean’s daughter, helps run the Bentonville shop. Classes typically last just two hours, so it is rare for someone to get too tipsy, she said. Credit Beth Hall for The New York Times

Whether run by franchisees or sole proprietors, the classes have a similar structure: An artist offers step-by-step instructions on how to paint a predetermined image. While they paint, customers enjoy an alcoholic beverage of their choice (or, if they prefer, coffee or water). And when they finish, they get to keep their creations. Classes can cost $35 to $65 a person, depending on location and format.

Cathy Deano, a founder of Painting With a Twist, which is based in Mandeville, La., said that most participants had not done much painting, if any, before taking a class, and that having a few sips of wine helped tame what she called the “white canvas anxiety” that novice artists can feel when starting a painting. “It just relaxes them,” she said.

“I tell my husband, ‘It’s like going fishing,’” said Susan Jean, the proprietor of Painting With a Twist’s Bentonville location. “You drink a little, talk a lot and bring something home.”

Ms. Jean, 59, said she had always wanted to run her own business and had decided on a paint-and-sip shop after taking a class with her sister. She is not an artist herself: “I can’t paint a wall,” she said with a shrug.

She hires local artists to teach the classes, while she and her daughter, Katie Collins, run the business. Some classes are open to anyone; others are geared toward couples or “girls night out” groups. Companies also schedule classes as team-building exercises or fund-raising events.

The paint-and-sip trend has been driven in part by a generally heightened interest in wine, said Ben Litalien, an instructor in the franchise-management certificate program at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

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But, Mr. Litalien said, consumers were also increasingly being drawn to experiences that engage them and allow them to express themselves, “rather than simply buying something.” Other examples of experience-based businesses that he cited included Top Golf, where customers play golf-related games, and “escape rooms,” where participants solve puzzles together.

The growth of such businesses may reflect the findings of recent psychological research showing that people are happier when they have an experience rather than making a purchase. In a 2014 article in Psychological Science (title: “Waiting for Merlot”), researchers at Cornell University and the University of California, San Francisco, found that just the anticipation of experiences could be more pleasurable than the anticipation of buying merchandise.

Starting a Painting With a Twist location requires an initial franchise fee of $25,000; total upfront costs, including that fee, can run from $89,000 to $188,000, depending on location. The company’s franchise agreement calls for a seven-year commitment. Annual gross revenue for individual outlets averages about $388,000, according to Painting With a Twist.

Mr. Litalien said that demand for so-called experiential classes was high and that there appeared to be little risk of cannibalization as the industry grew. A potential long-term challenge was getting customers to return, especially, he said, as “the novelty subsides.”

In other words, how many paintings of sunsets and butterflies do people want, even if they painted them themselves?

Some outlets are trying different approaches to keep the experience fresh. Bottle Bottega, which is based in Chicago, offers classes to personalize a wine glass or holiday ornament. It also offers bachelorette parties, where participants paint a nude male model. Bottle Bottega’s website describes the sessions as “fun, classy and upscale.”

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From left, Shawnn Renfrow, Abby Wilson and Megan Stacy at the Bentonville shop this month. Paint-and-sip classes attract couples, friends, newcomers and regulars. Credit Beth Hall for The New York Times
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Pausing before the next stroke. Cathy Deano, a founder of Painting With a Twist, said a few sips of wine helped tame what she called the “white canvas anxiety” novice artists can feel when starting a painting. Credit Beth Hall for The New York Times

Ms. Freede of the Paint Place said her outlets tried to spice things up as well, offering “erotic” painting nights for couples. “Nothing vulgar,” she said, just paintings that might be a bit more “risqué” than those offered on a typical night.

Many locations tap into Americans’ obsession with dogs and cats by offering “Paint Your Pet” classes. Participants provide photographs of their pets in advance, which an artist sketches in pencil. Classes are then devoted to finishing the images with paint. “Those always sell out,” said Ms. Collins of the Painting With a Twist location here.

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Studios also try to connect painting classes to the wider world. The Bentonville group, for instance, painted a purple-hued eclipse, in honor of the solar eclipse in August.

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Shelby Nichols, the instructor for the two-hour session in Bentonville on that August Friday, stepped onto a raised platform. Wearing a headset with a microphone, she ran through a checklist of supplies: chalk, paint and brushes.

“We’re going to put the first layer on a bit thin,” she said, demonstrating on her own canvas. “Don’t glop it on!”

Ms. Nichols, 31, a professional illustrator, said she enjoyed moonlighting as a teacher for inexperienced artists. “I’m a ham,” she said, “so I like being on stage.”

As she delivered instructions, a playlist featuring the singer Bruno Mars and ’80s bands like Simple Minds provided a soundtrack. Ms. Collins surveyed the room and offered encouragement.

As the session proceeded, the mood grew increasingly relaxed, an end-of-week feeling combined with the effect of the alcohol. The sessions are as much about socializing as they are about art.

“Resist the urge to paint the middle right now,” Ms. Nichols admonished, as the participants painted a yellow oval. “Resist!”

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Shelby Nichols, an instructor at the Painting With a Twist in Bentonville. A professional illustrator, she enjoys teaching inexperienced artists. “I’m a ham,” she said, “so I like being on stage.” Credit Beth Hall for The New York Times

The class was a mix of couples, friends, newcomers and regulars. Gayle Jackson, 70, sipped a glass of white wine as she painted. She said she considered the drink “incidental” to the camaraderie.

“I’m a widow,” she said, “and this gets me out.” She added that it also gave her ideas for painting at home with her grandchildren.

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At the next table, Lexy Paryzek, 25, a human resources manager at a hospital, and her date, Jonathan Hendrix, 29, a real estate appraiser, shared a bottle of wine. Mr. Hendrix said it was their second visit; it had been his idea to bring Ms. Paryzek the first time. “It’s quality time together,” he said, adding that it was nice to have a date night that did not involve a bar.

This time, they had brought along their mothers, who sat across the table. “It’s just relaxing,” said Mr. Hendrix’s mother, Karen Hendrix, who had been before. “I’m a teacher’s aide, so I need some stress-free time.”

Local regulations governing such businesses vary. Some paint-and-sip locations allow people to bring their own alcohol, but others do not and require patrons to buy drinks on site.

Classes typically last just two hours, so it is rare for someone to get too tipsy, Ms. Collins said. The exception is on weekends, when it is sometimes obvious that a patron has been “pre-gaming,” drinking before class. In those instances, she said, she makes sure to ask if the person has a ride home. So far, she said, “we’ve never had to shut somebody off.”

Patrons have mostly been able to follow an instructor’s directions, but occasionally someone will need extra help.

Once, Ms. Collins said, a male patron planned to paint “Will you marry me?” on a canvas and present it to his girlfriend as a proposal, but he got too nervous. The instructor finished it for him.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/20/business/smallbusiness/paint-and-sip-classes.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Entrepreneurship: Bubble Tea Purveyors Continue to Grow Along With Drink’s Popularity

“One hundred percent sweetness,” the clerk said helpfully to a customer, “is like a Coke.”

Also: Small or large? Hot or cold, and, if cold, lots of ice or just a little?

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At a Boba Guys shop, descriptions of drinks help first-time customers make a selection.

Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

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Whisking green tea, then adding it through a strainer to a bubble tea concoction. Customers can choose ingredients and sweetness levels. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

Anchal Lamba, 27, owns eight Gong Cha bubble tea shops in New York City and has franchised others elsewhere in New York State and in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Texas. “My stores in Flushing did well from Day 1,” she said of a location in a section of Queens, “because the Asians customers are there” and were familiar with the product.

According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., a trade group, 87 percent of American millennials drink tea. Understandably, Ms. Lamba has made them a key target of her marketing efforts, sponsoring events at New York University and supplying drinks to club meetings there.

The drink she is trying to push further into the mainstream was created, so the story goes, at a teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan, almost 30 years ago when, on a whim, a manager poured the tapioca balls from her pudding into a glass of iced Assam tea.

After becoming a hit in Taiwan, bubble tea was embraced throughout Asia. It started to become increasingly available on the East and West Coasts a few years back.

On a recent visit to Boba Guys, Patrick Lin, a regular customer, ordered four drinks, including a matcha latte and a horchata, which is made with cinnamon and rice milk.

“I’m trying to try everything on the menu,” Mr. Lin, a restaurateur, a said.

Ms. Lamba of Gong Cha acknowledged that there could take time for some people to appreciate the chewy, gelatinous bubbles in the tea. “Sometimes, people are a little freaked out by it,” she said. “They’ll have a sip and say, ‘This is interesting,’ and then they’ll have another sip and think, ‘Hmmm, maybe I will have it again.’”

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Anchal Lamba at the Gong Cha store at 75 W. 38th Street in Manhattan, one of eight she owns in the city. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times
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Tapioca balls brewing. Anchal Lamba says there is a learning curve to appreciating the chewy, gelatinous bubbles. “Sometimes, people are a little freaked out by it,” she said. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

In recent years, iced tea and hot tea have been making inroads against coffee, but there are signs of stress: Starbucks recently announced that it would close its stand-alone Teavana stores, calling into question the future of a brand it bought for $620 million in 2012.

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Purveyors of bubble tea hope they can take advantage of the growing popularity of tea. Some shops offer dozens of beverage options — like fruit-based teas, smoothies and slushes — with some of the drinks even incorporate coffee.

But it is the basic bubble tea, or bubble milk tea, that is the main event. Vivi Bubble Tea, a franchise business, has 45 shops in the United States, most of them on the East Coast, and seven more under construction. Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company, which is based in Taiwan, has four stores in New York City and 26 in other states. CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice has 32 locations in the country, 22 of them in New York City.

Boba Guys began in San Francisco in 2011 as a pop-up stand inside a ramen noodle restaurant. It was a testing ground for the founders, Bin Chen and Andrew Chau, to refine their three flavors (classic black milk tea, jasmine and soy milk tea) and to work on new concoctions.

“We were in the Mission area, where there were a lot of curious foodies and a lot of Asian-Americans who had grown up drinking bubble tea,” said Mr. Chen, a former creative director at a messenger bag company. He and Mr. Chau opened their first stand-alone store in San Francisco in 2013 and have since expanded to six in the Bay Area and three in New York City.

Their goal is to differentiate Boba Guys by positioning it as a premium brand, the bubble tea equivalent of upscale coffee spots like Blue Bottle and La Colombe.

Many bubble tea companies have opened stores near college campuses. The thinking, said Derrick Fang of Ten Ren Tea, “is that Asian students will introduce the culture to their non-Asian friends — and it works.”

There is also a concerted effort to guide newcomers. “We introduce people to the way to order, and we explain the toppings and the different flavors,” Mr. Fang said. “And we had to make adjustments for the U.S. market. People in America like a sweeter taste than in Asia.”

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An assortment of bubble teas at Boba Guys at 11 Waverly Place in Manhattan. Credit Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/business/smallbusiness/bubble-tea.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Rebranding of the Bronx

That has changed. Mr. Obispo ascribes the area’s newfound self-respect in part to a spate of new building and speculation by outsiders — the South Bronx had the fastest rate of business growth in the borough from 2000 to 2011, according to the office of the state comptroller — a factor that has spurred locals to wrest back their community and reclaim it as a seat of urban cool.

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The New South Bronx

CreditAndre D. Wagner for The New York Times

Still, the prospect of gentrification rattles. Alarming to some is the seven-tower, $400 million residential and retail complex rising along the former industrial waterfront in the Port Morris section. Keith Rubenstein, a founder of the real estate investment company Somerset Partners, which is developing the property with the Chetrit Group, is predicting strong demand for some 1,300 units, mostly by young professionals in search of upscale amenities and sweeping waterfront views.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Rubenstein incited a backlash by throwing a “Bronx Is Burning” one-night art show attended by more than 2,500 people — Adrien Brody, Naomi Campbell, Kendall Jenner and Carmelo Anthony, among them — sipping Dom Pérignon and Patrón tequila. The event drew the ire of Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker, who charged that it exploited the South Bronx’s troubled history for entertainment.

Further stoking the controversy was a Somerset billboard touting the area as “the Piano District.” Other speculators were quick to chime in, proclaiming the Bronx as the new Brooklyn.

“We don’t need another Brooklyn,” said Roselyn Grullon, a partner in Bronx Native, an apparel company. “We don’t want developers to push out the locals and flatten our beautiful, diverse culture.”

But she is not averse to efforts by Bronx artists and merchants to spruce up the area. In the last year alone, the formerly forbidding Mott Haven neighborhood has welcomed La Grata, an upscale restaurant and pizzeria; Filtered Coffee, a low-key Third Avenue gathering spot; Cross Gallery, showcasing art, technology and design; and 9J, a boutique on Bruckner Boulevard that is a magnet to locals and music world luminaries.

These businesses and others are ambassadors of Bronx culture at large, said Jerome LaMaar, 9J’s dapper owner. “And what’s a brand without the right ambassador to push it?”

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Here, a look at some of those South Bronx ambassadors and their pioneering efforts in this new frontier.

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Jerome LaMaar, at 9J, enthroned in chair by Sicis, known for its elaborate mosaics and home furnishings. Credit Andre D. Wagner for The New York Times

Jerome LaMaar

The Wiz of Bruckner Boulevard

“I want to be the Jeffrey Kalinsky of Bruckner Boulevard,” Jerome LaMaar said, referring to the merchant whose luxury fashion emporium was vital in transforming the once gritty meatpacking district into a high-style fashion destination.

At 32, Mr. LaMaar, a Bronx-bred former designer, has a similarly lofty goal: to turn his boutique 9J into a fashionable anchor on Bruckner Boulevard. Today the shop attracts locals and high-profile outsiders like Tina Knowles and Jennifer Lopez’s lively entourage, their implicit endorsement fueling Mr. LaMaar’s ambition.

“At first, I wanted to tap into the local culture — that’s home,” he said. Now he envisions his store as a club, one that draws a heady amalgam of local artists and borough bigwigs along with deep-pocketed sightseers and businesspeople.

Not that he would neglect his assorted friends. “They’re skaters, drag queens and young professionals of all ages and colors,” Mr. LaMaar said. “This is a place where they can feel like themselves and not be judged or ostracized.”

On a practical level, it’s a place where they can shop. The store is a tidy bazaar stocked with kimonos and embroidered peasant smocks, jewelry, T-shirts and pastel-tone sneakers, the prices varying from about $3 for an adult-friendly toy, say, to $3,000 or more for substantial, and colorful, home furnishings. He hopes to take his vision, loosely modeled on the fabled Parisian concept store Colette, global.

Yet his roots remain in the Bronx. A production of the “The Wiz” that he saw as a boy, formed his aesthetic and is still informing his fantasies.

“The movie wasn’t about fashion per se,” Mr. LaMaar said. “It was about the Wiz, how he was dictating things, how the look of those things should shift and change. That’s the way I see my store, my career, my life.”

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Flora Montes, the force behind Bronx Fashion Week. Credit Andre D. Wagner for The New York Times

Flora Montes

She Rules the Runways

Flora Montes, 52, started Bronx Fashion Week three years ago with her last $200 unemployment check and gumption to spare. “I have to believe that somewhere along the line I was meant to be the vessel that brought it to life,” she said.

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Fashion enthralled this Bronx-born single mother of two from the time she saw her first runway show in Manhattan, in 2014. “That was a Saturday,” she recalled, “and on Sunday I started to get the legal paperwork together and reach out to my small network of supporters. I thought, ‘The other boroughs have their fashion week, and now it’s time for the Bronx to step up.’”

Her first event, stretched over three nights in September of that year, drew close to 1,000 visitors who watched models of diverse races, ages and body types strut the work of local designers and others. Some designers were short on cash. “But I don’t turn my back on anyone,” Ms. Montes said. “I don’t have the heart to say, ‘No, you can’t show because you can’t pay a fee.’”

For Ms. Montes, a poet and chef, the show’s success seemed surreal. “I had no connection to the industry,” she said. “I’m no fashionista. My daughter used to tease me: ‘Mom, you used to walk around the house in sweats and a ponytail. When did you become a fashion thing?’”

For her next event, on Aug. 26 at the Mall at Bay Plaza, Ms. Montes hopes to lure a few Manhattan dignitaries, among them Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/fashion/rebranding-the-bronx.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Entrepreneurship: The Blobs in Your Tea? They’re Supposed to Be There

“I can’t say that everybody who tries it loves it, but there’s a misconception that people have to have bubble tea,” Ms. Lamba said. “We have plain tea, too.”

So far, bubble tea “hasn’t hit anybody’s radar in terms of the next big trend,” said Peter F. Goggi, the president of the Tea Association of the U.S.A.

“In order for a trend to latch on, you have to be able to get it anywhere, not just in small tea shops,” he said. “It’s got to make it into quick-serve restaurants, into food service, into the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store. It’s about access.”

But, Mr. Goggi added: “Innovation is important to any product category, and you’re getting a different mouth feel with the tapioca, and you’re getting the sweetness. It’s making tea more palatable to the soda generation.”

In recent years, iced tea and hot tea have been making inroads against coffee, but there are signs of stress: Starbucks recently announced that it would shutter its stand-alone Teavana stores, calling into question the future of a brand it bought for $620 million in 2012.

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Bubble tea purveyors hope they can fill the void. Some shops offer dozens of beverage options — like fruit-based teas, smoothies and slushes — and some drinks even incorporate coffee (talk about steeping with the enemy).

But it is the basic bubble milk tea that is the main event. Vivi Bubble Tea, a franchise business, has 45 shops in the United States, most of them on the East Coast, and seven more under construction. Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company, which is based in Taiwan, has four stores in New York City and 26 in other states, while CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice has 32 outposts in the country, 22 of them in New York City.

Boba Guys began in San Francisco in 2011 as a pop-up inside a ramen noodle restaurant. It served as a testing ground for the two founders, Bin Chen and Andrew Chau, to refine their three flavors (classic black milk tea, jasmine and soy milk tea) and to work on new concoctions.

“We were in the Mission area, where there were a lot of curious foodies and a lot of Asian-Americans who had grown up drinking bubble tea,” said Mr. Chen, the former creative director at a messenger bag company. He and Mr. Chau opened their first stand-alone store in San Francisco in 2013 and have since expanded to six in the Bay Area and three in New York City.

Their goal is to differentiate Boba Guys by positioning it as a premium brand: the bubble tea equivalent of upscale coffee spots like Blue Bottle and La Colombe.

Mr. Chen emphasizes Boba Guys’ use of freshly brewed teas (rather than powdered), organic milk (rather than nondairy) and made-from-scratch jellies and fresh fruit. (For the record, other bubble tea shops make similar claims for their ingredients.)

Many bubble tea companies have opened stores near college campuses. The thinking, said Derrick Fang, the manager at Ten Ren Tea, “is that Asian students will introduce the culture to their non-Asian friends — and it works.”

There’s also a concerted effort to guide newcomers. “We introduce people to the way to order, and we explain the toppings and the different flavors,” Mr. Fang said. “And we had to make adjustments for the U.S. market. People in America like a sweeter taste than in Asia.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/business/smallbusiness/the-blobs-in-your-tea-theyre-supposed-to-be-there.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Entrepreneurship: When a Scented Candle Just Won’t Do

Drugstores and other retailers are fully stocked with low-cost home fragrances, from room sprays to candles and wall plug-ins. Now, thanks to Air Esscentials and other such firms, there are options on the higher end: compact yet high-powered diffusers that will infuse scent throughout a room for hours or days at a time.

Examples include Aera, a $200 device the size of a paperback book that its parent company, Prolitec, says can perfume a room of up to 2,000 square feet, with fragrance levels adjustable through an app. Each fragrance capsule costs $50 and, according to Aera’s website, will last about 60 days if it is placed in “a 450-square-foot room, on an average setting running for 24 hours per day.”

Jeanette Wolfe, a holistic health educator, is a big fan of such devices and a big believer in the power of scent to increase energy and “drop you into a calm place,” as she put it.

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Dimitri Gallit, the chief executive of AromaTech. Credit Martin Tessler for The New York Times

She used to rely on old-fashioned methods to perfume her Victorian home in Princeton, N.J.: dried flowers and squares of muslin that were infused with essential oils and placed in the air vents. “But it wasn’t as strong or clear or efficient a scent as I wanted,” Ms. Wolfe said.

Now each floor of the house has its own fragrance dispersed by an AroMini, one of several styles of cold-air diffusers for the home made by AromaTech. According to the company, AroMini, a 12-inch-tall cylinder that costs $279, is strong enough to imbue fragrance in a 1,000-square-foot room. The essential oil or aroma oil refills cost $16 to $180, and last about a month.

Citrus, typically a combination of mandarin and bergamot, wafts through the first floor of Ms. Wolfe’s home, while frankincense and sandalwood perfume the bedrooms on the two upper levels. And to get rid of the “old house” smell of the basement, Ms. Wolfe favors “grounded scents” like evergreen, pine, mint and spearmint. “But I change them seasonally,” she said. “I’ll add spices during the holiday season. I’ll shift them if I’m having a dinner party. I’ll shift them depending on my mood.”

The home fragrance market is a $6.4 billion business at the retail level, according to a 2016 study by Kline, a market research and consulting firm in Parsippany, N.J. Using data from a Simmons national consumer survey, the online research company Statista calculated that 73 percent of Americans used room deodorizers and air freshener sprays last year; the figure is poised to hit 77 percent by 2020.

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More than just a way of eliminating odor (we’re talking about you, Fido and Frisky), home fragrance has lately become a means of self-expression. “It’s an element of design, like the colors on the wall or the furniture — it’s a way for people to communicate who they are,” said Richard Weening, chief executive of Prolitec, the Milwaukee-based commercial air care company that recently introduced Aera.

“I do not think I’ve met an individual who doesn’t respond to scents,” Ms. Wolfe said.

Actually, some don’t respond well. Consider the people who are allergic to perfumes or just don’t like them. The “fragrance free” movement, which uses the tagline “think before you stink,” has tried for years to beat back the use of fragrances in public places, in deference to the scent-sensitive.

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Still, there are many who consider lemon-infused air to be a luxury, maybe even a necessity. “The general principle is: People like places that smell good, and they don’t like places that smell bad,” said Mr. Weening of Prolitec.

To hear him tell it, the conventional tools deployed for making a place smell good — candles, sprays, wax melts, reed diffusers, and so-called liquid electricals like plug-ins — leave something to be desired. The scents are heavy, inconsistent and, in his view, maybe just a bit unrefined. “It’s that New York taxicab smell,” Mr. Weening said.

Two years ago, Dimitri Gailit, the chief executive of AromaTech, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, noticed that his company was fielding calls from clients who wanted their residences to smell as inviting as their stores.

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Aera is a $200 device the size of a paperback book that its parent company, Prolitec, says can perfume a room of up to 2,000 square feet.

“So we decided to make every one of our products available for home use,” he said.

The devices, sold through the company’s website and Amazon, include the AromaCube ($30), a battery-operated diffuser meant for a small space like a bathroom; the AromaPod ($129), designed for up to 500 square feet; and the industrial-strength AromaPro ($849), which comes with an HVAC adapter, meaning it can work through a customer’s home heating and air-conditioning system.

The company’s cold air diffusion process breaks down aroma oils and essential oils — the most popular are white tea and thyme, and oriental garden — and disperses them in the form of dry vapor.

Depending on the device, customers can digitally adjust the intensity of the vapor as well as the hours that it is dispersed. Control of the diffusers via an app is in the planning stages.

“There are people who are buying our machines for aromatherapy,” Mr. Gailit said, “and then there are customers who want to create a certain ambience in their home, like when they’re having a party. They may be having a tropical-themed party or a chocolate fondue party, so they’ll disperse a fragrance like coconut spice or chocolate.”

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Customers have responded, Mr. Gailit said: “Since we introduced our consumer line, we have significantly increased our business.”

Mr. Weening said he had had the same experience since Aera hit the market. “We’re way ahead of where we expected to be with sales,” he said. “People are buying multiple machines.”

Aroma360’s clients are mostly commercial, “but a lot of business owners asked for scents in their home as well,” said Meghan McMahon, the company’s director of marketing. Residential customers can choose from cold air diffusers that range in price from $149 (for 300 to 800 square feet) to $1,499 (to cover up to 6,000 square feet).

ScentAir, too, ventured into the home fragrance market at the urging of commercial customers. But rather than sell directly to the consumer, ScentAir has made its home fragrance system — which is essentially a high-end plug in that costs $130 — available exclusively on the websites of hotel clients like Marriott and Westin.

“It’s a nice tie-in for us,” said Edward Burke, ScentAir’s vice president of customer strategy and communications. “And by offering the home version on the hotels’ websites, it helps us be a better partner.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/business/smallbusiness/commercial-fragrance-systems-home-market.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Entrepreneurship: A New Lure for Spa Customers? A Salt Cave

Nonetheless, salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, a venerable treatment in Central Europe and Asia, is now being offered at spas, resorts and stand-alone facilities in the United States in the form of salt beds, salt rooms and salt booths. Floors and walls that are lined with salt blocks and salt crystals, and zero-gravity chairs (recliners designed to relax the back), are the norm. A device known as a halogenerator grinds sodium chloride into a dry aerosol, then disperses it to mimic the microclimate of a salt cave.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, salt spas seem to be sprouting in pockets of the United States that attract the rich. For example, at the Montauk Salt Cave, which opened two years ago in the Hamptons, a session costs $40 for adults. There’s a children’s hour ($40 per child, but adult guardians may enter free) as well as yoga classes and reiki healing amid the Himalayan salt. At the Wellery, a pop-up “wellness center” at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, weary shoppers can refresh themselves in one of several salt booths (10 minutes for $25) until the end of October.

“The ability to look at salt and see its helpful properties has become a significant part of our business,” said Allan Share, the president of the Spa Industry Association.

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Jessica and Elliott Helmer, owners of the Salt Suite. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

In 2012, there were a dozen halotherapy facilities — places with halogenerators — in North America, according to Leo M. Tonkin, the founder and chief executive of Salt Chamber, a supplier of dry salt therapy equipment, based in Boca Raton, Fla.

“In the last four years, the number has grown to 300 salt chambers,” said Mr. Tonkin, who is also the founder of the Salt Therapy Association, a trade group. “There’s been a rapid growth in stand-alone salt facilities and in resorts adding a salt room as an amenity. Day spas have taken an underutilized area and turned it into a salt room, and clubhouses of some high-end residential developments are adding salt rooms.”

Economics are a big driver: A visit to the sauna or steam room is generally included in the basic spa fee at hotels and resorts, but salt rooms often cost extra.

Adding salt therapy to spa services is another moneymaker. At the Four Seasons Resort in Oahu at Ko Olina, 25 minutes in the salt chamber costs $65. The so-called Ha Ritual — which involves 50 minutes in that chamber, with guided meditation, a dry salt foot scrub and a massage — runs $190.

But there are occasional bargains. At the Breathe Salt Room on Park Avenue in Manhattan, the “salty yoga” classes are $35, the same cost as a standard salt session.

When the Linq Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas opened a new spa two years ago, its two salt caves with halogenerators were a way “for us to differentiate ourselves,” said Joy Matti, Linq’s spa operations manager. “Several spas on the strip have salt rooms, but don’t have halogenerators.”

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Linq’s salt caves feature zero-gravity chairs and soft music. Guests who book a spa service for at least $50 are welcome to breathe in the saline air at no additional charge. Otherwise, a 45-minute session runs $40. “We have guests who try it, then come back the next day because they got the best sleep of their lives,” Ms. Matti said.

The caves accommodate up to eight people “and are generally booked from 8 a.m. until the last session at 6 p.m.,” she said.

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Supplies for salt spas in Leo Tonkin’s Salt Chamber warehouse, in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s a great business model because it’s low labor,” Mr. Tonkin said. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

Entrepreneurs have taken note. Mr. Tonkin estimates there are 100 stand-alone salt facilities around the country, generally two- or three-room studios that charge $30 to $50 per session, though discount packages and membership arrangements can lower the price considerably.

Many of these spa owners have a side business in salt lamps, bath salts, skin scrubs and Solé, a concentrated salt solution, to create another revenue stream. To appeal to parents who believe that halotherapy can relieve symptoms of allergies and eczema, some facilities have a dedicated children’s room, with salt on the floor to suggest a sandbox or beach and fish-themed murals.

The décor can be a big part of the lure. Some of the spaces are outfitted to look like Zen relaxation rooms, some resemble caves, and some have backlit blocks of amber and pink salt.

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“It’s a great business model because it’s low labor,” Mr. Tonkin said. “You don’t need instructors. You don’t have people providing services. And once the facility is built, the operational expenses are low. The only consumable is the sodium chloride that goes into the halogenerator.” A 10-pound bag is $25, he said, and is enough for 200 to 400 sessions in a salt room depending on the size of the room and the length of the session.

“It’s pennies a treatment,” Mr. Tonkin said. “This is a very lucrative business for an owner-operator.”

Five years ago, Jessica Helmer and her husband, Elliot, of Delray Beach, Fla., were looking for a business opportunity. “We were ready to do our own thing,” said Ms. Helmer, 36, who had previously worked in corporate sales.

When a friend came back from a trip to California raving about the halotherapy center that had soothed her allergies, the Helmers were sold. In 2012 they opened the Salt Suite, a wellness center in Delray Beach with three rooms.

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“It was a slow ramp-up but in Year 2 it jumped,” said Ms. Helmer, who subsequently opened a salt studio in Lake Worth. She and her husband have since sold Salt Suite franchises in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Palm Beach and have fielded inquiries from people in New York, New Jersey, California and Texas “without even doing any marketing,” she said.

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Leo Tonkin, founder of Salt Chamber, in his supply warehouse. He’s also the founder of the Salt Therapy Association, a trade group. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

A single session is $35 and an unlimited monthly membership is $99. The Helmers’ clients — mostly mothers bringing their asthmatic children, and adults over 45 with assorted respiratory ailments — visit an average of one to three times a week.

Finding the right locations has been a challenge. “This isn’t a massage or haircut,” Ms. Helmer said. “It’s like a gym — it needs to be accessible so it can be part of your daily routine.”

But first, Ms. Helmer has to explain exactly what she’s selling. “No one has heard of salt rooms, so we have to explain what they are and explain that people have to come in for three or five sessions in order to see a small change,” she said.

But the low profile of salt rooms is also a selling point. “People are intrigued,” Ms. Helmer said. “We have the ‘Aah!’ factor. And now some of our customers are interested in franchising a studio.”

William Dunai, the owner of the Salt Cavern in Clifton, N.J., opened his doors in 2010 and struggled for three or four years. Groupon deals helped build the business, and now, during busy times on weekends, it operates at 95 percent occupancy.

Each of the two rooms can accommodate up to seven customers. A 45-minute visit is $50, but there is a buy-one-get-one-free option as well as an eight-session package for $150. “Some people meditate or pray or sleep while they’re here,” Mr. Dunai said.

Regulars come once or twice a week, though some clients show up only when they are sick. One customer has been coming daily since December, Mr. Dunai said, “and he told me he’s going to keep coming as long as he stays well.”

So far, so good.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/business/smallbusiness/spa-therapy-salt-sauna.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Feature: Aleppo After the Fall

Back in the souqs, I kept trying to superimpose my memories of the place. We passed near the silk merchants’ area, now blackened and silent. Before 2011, I used to stop there and visit a flamboyant young trader with a round, cherubic face. He would give me tea and drape me with scarves. His little stall was covered with pictures of gay icons like Judy Garland, a reference that his Syrian partners seemed not to get (or perhaps they just didn’t care). I still have his business card, with a picture of Oscar Wilde and the quote: “I can resist everything except temptation.” Aleppo in those days was a magnet for footloose journalists and adventure tourists. We would spend hours getting lost in the souqs and then stop for drinks in the dimly lit bar at the Hotel Baron, gazing at its old unpaid bar tab left by T.E. Lawrence, our heads swimming with nostalgia for an era we knew only from books.

Now parts of the city were literally unrecognizable. In al-Hatab Square, once one of the prettier spots in the Old City, I found only a giant, uneven mound of rubble and earth that rose 15 feet above the street, with grass growing in it. I almost stepped on an unexploded Turkish gas bomb surrounded by yellow spring flowers. On the square’s edges, half the buildings were destroyed. It was hard to believe this was once an orderly urban setting, lined with restaurants and hotels. The last time I was in Aleppo, in late 2010, I stayed at a beautiful old boutique hotel near the square, the Beit Wakil. I remember the owner taking me down into a dark, earthen-walled subbasement to show me a network of tunnels built centuries earlier. You could travel all the way to the citadel — the great medieval palace that towers over the Old City — without going aboveground, he said. They were built during the 17th century, when intermittent wars often made streets too treacherous to walk. “Perhaps we will need them again,” he said.

What destroyed Aleppo? It was not the sectarianism that is often held up as a key to the Syrian war. It was not just “terrorism,” the word used by regime apologists to fend off any share of blame. Those things played a role, but the core of the conflict in Aleppo, as in much of Syria, was a divide between urban wealth and rural poverty. It is not new. Travelers in the Ottoman era used to describe the shocking gulf between Aleppo’s opulence and the countryside surrounding it, where peasants lived in almost Stone Age conditions. Later, this divide mapped onto the city itself, as eastern Aleppo spread and filled with poor migrants. Deeply religious and mostly illiterate, smoldering with class resentment, they became the foot soldiers of a violent insurgency led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s. That rebellion burned for years and culminated in the Syrian regime’s notorious massacre of 10,000 to 30,000 people in the city of Hama in 1982. Hundreds of people were killed in Aleppo, too, and a siege atmosphere marked the entire city. The Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa, who grew up in Aleppo during those years and wrote a novel about it, told me in 2008 that the city’s cosmopolitan traditions had helped protect it. But he added: “All this has harmed Syrian society so much. If what happened in the 1980s were to happen again, I think the Islamists would win.”

One tragedy of Aleppo is that this rift between rich and poor was slowly mending in the years just before the 2011 uprisings. An economic renaissance was underway, fueled by thousands of small factories on the city’s outskirts. The workers were mostly from eastern Aleppo, and the owners from the west. A trade deal with Turkey, whose border is just 30 miles to the north, brought new business and tourists and optimism. I remember sitting at cafe table with two Turkish traders just outside the citadel in late 2009. Tourists thronged all around us, and the two men talked excitedly about how new joint ventures were melting the animosity between their country and Syria. “Erdogan and Assad, they are like real friends,” one of them said, referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

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This kind of optimism was one reason the revolution took so long to reach Aleppo. All through 2011, as the rest of Syria erupted in protest, its largest city was quiet. But by 2012, in the villages just beyond the city’s edges, weaponry was flowing in from across the Turkish border and battalions were being formed. “The countryside was boiling,” I was told by Adnan Hadad, an opposition activist who was there at the time and belonged to the Revolutionary Military Council in Aleppo, a group led by Syrian military officers who defected. The council was eager for more European and American recognition and sensitive to Western calls for the preservation of most of Syria’s state institutions. But local rural people tended to side with a more Islamist and less patient group called Liwa al-Tawheed. Tawheed’s members “considered themselves more authentic” and had begun getting their own funding from Persian Gulf donors, Hadad told me. In the spring of 2012, Tawheed’s members began pushing for a military takeover of Aleppo, accusing the council of excessive caution and even secret deals with the regime. The council resisted, saying they should move only when it was clear that the city’s people wanted them to. In July, Tawheed took matters into its own hands. Armed insurgents flooded eastern and southwestern parts of the city, taking over civilian houses as well as police stations in the name of the revolution. Hadad considered the move a “fatal mistake,” he told me, and resigned from the military council.

By then, eastern Aleppo had become a rebel stronghold. In early 2013, elections for provincial councils took place, giving the rebels a civilian veneer. But the councils, initially funded by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, were soon under pressure from the Nusra Front, the Syrian Qaeda affiliate, and other hard-line groups. Later, ISIS forces captured parts of the city and forced residents to live by their rigid code. In theory, Aleppo was an embattled showplace for the Syrian revolution’s aspirations. In fact, most civilians were dependent on a patchwork of armed rebel factions for food and protection. The constant pressure of war left almost no room for a real economy, and many of the city’s factories had been repurposed by the rebels as military bases.

Now Aleppo’s great economic engine lies in ruins. One afternoon, a 45-year-old factory owner named Ghassan Nasi took me to the industrial area just west of Aleppo called Layramoon. The sounds of the city dissipated as we drove west, and when the car stopped, there was an eerie silence. An entire district that once hummed with 1,000 small factories was now abandoned, most of its buildings shattered and burned. “It is a 100 percent loss here,” Nasi said. We walked down a dusty street to his factory, a textile and dyeing house that employed 130 people who worked 24 hours a day in three shifts. The door still had its metal filigree gate and marble steps. “This is where workers stamped in and out,” he said.

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The roof of the Aleppo Eye Hospital, which rebels used as a military headquarters. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times
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Inside the hospital. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times

Inside, the huge factory floor was burned black and strewn with rubble. The rebels had used it to make weapons, he said. His old office had been used to house prisoners. Nasi told me quietly that he collapsed to his knees upon seeing it again last summer. “I lost $10 million in machinery, $4 million in land,” he said. “Even if we rebuild, the machinery is gone, and with the sanctions, we cannot buy new machinery.” On top of that, there is inflation: The American dollar was worth 47 Syrian pounds before the crisis, and now it trades unofficially at about 520. And Turkey — where much of the Aleppo factories’ machinery was transported and sold, often with the collusion of Syrian owners who wanted to avoid losing everything — now sells similar textiles for less. Reviving Syrian industry, and the social glue it might once have provided, is next to impossible.

I asked Nasi what had become of his workers. He said about 70 percent of them joined the rebels. He didn’t seem bitter or surprised about this. Some lived nearby, so when the area was divided, they had little choice. As for the others, they were poor and ill educated and religious, and the rebels promised them a lot. “The average salary for workers was about a hundred dollars a week,” he said. “The rebels paid more.”

For many Aleppans, caught up in a conflict they had tried to avoid, the only rule was survival. On a warm spring morning in 2013, a 22-year-old man named Yasser lay bleeding in the middle of a street in eastern Aleppo. Moments earlier, he had carried his mother, mortally wounded by a sniper, into his grandparents’ car. As he watched the car pull away, three bullets struck his legs and left arm. He collapsed into the street and could not move. Shots rang out over his head: regime soldiers trading fire with rebels on either side of him. The soldiers heard Yasser calling for help and told him to come toward them. “I can’t move,” he shouted. Then a rebel spoke from a nearby building, promising to help. When he answered, a regime soldier called out, “Who are you talking to?” The rebels quickly warned him not to answer or they would kill him.

“I was very scared of both sides,” Yasser told me later. “If I went to one side, the other would kill me.” He lay there, his limbs going numb, too frightened to move or speak for more than four hours.

I met Yasser in March in Sha’ar, the most devastated neighborhood in eastern Aleppo. He was short and solidly built, with a snub nose and a gruff manner. He was selling tomatoes and cucumbers from a stand, on a block where many buildings were in ruins. Across the street was a fruit stand, and next to it, a loud generator, set up by the government to supply electricity. Surprising numbers of people walked the streets. This place had been almost completely empty a few weeks earlier, but now that Russian mine-clearing teams had been through and the rubble was mostly pushed aside, Sha’ar’s residents were returning to their homes. (More than 100,000 went back to eastern Aleppo between January and March, according to the International Organization for Migration.) Yasser said he was one of the first people to come back, right after what he — like everyone else I met — called the liberation. It was a gesture of defiance, aimed at the rebels. “What we lost, we will get it back,” he said. He wore military fatigues, and he told me he re-enlisted in the military after he got out of the hospital in 2013. “My blood type is O-Assad,” he said.

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Later, Yasser showed me the place where he was wounded. It was the first time he’d been back since it happened, and the block had changed, like most of eastern Aleppo. “There was a checkpoint here, there were sandbags there,” he said. He pointed out the first-floor window where an old man had talked to him through curtains as he lay on the street. He showed me the building where he thought the sniper had been hiding, about 100 yards away. He explained how his ordeal had ended: An airstrike hit the building, and the sniper vanished. A man on a motorbike rescued Yasser, carrying him to a house, where someone cleaned his wounds. Later, he was taken to a hospital, where a doctor told him that his mother was dead. The doctor put a needle in his arm and told him to count to three, and he blacked out.

I found Yasser’s story credible, and his uncle later backed it up. But as I stood on the street with him, I found myself wondering: Did he really know who shot him? Bullets were coming from each side. As he lay there bleeding, whom was he more frightened of — the rebels or the regime? Yasser clearly knew how his government is portrayed in the West and seemed defensive about it. He told me a rebel group tried to blame the regime for his mother’s death. Later, he said, the same group admitted its guilt and offered blood money, which the family refused to take. This seemed less plausible. He walked me down the street to his uncle’s house, where he said we would hear another story about what the rebels had done.

Yasser’s uncle was a big, heavyset man with a jowly face and a look of weary resignation in his eyes. He welcomed us into his tiny apartment, where he offered me a stool and sat down on his old brass bed. He sighed and apologized for being unable to offer us tea. Then he showed us his scarred arm and told us the story of how his family was devastated in January 2013. He was driving his pregnant daughter to the hospital when machine-gun fire riddled the car, killing his wife instantly and wounding everyone else. He told me rebels from the Free Syrian Army pulled them from the car and rushed them to a nearby hospital. I asked who fired on them. “I don’t know,” he said.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/magazine/aleppo-after-the-fall.html?partner=rss&emc=rss