Making It

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, May 6, 2007

On a noisy block of the District's redeveloping Georgia Avenue, tucked between a furniture shop and a Salvadoran restaurant, is a sweet-smelling oasis of calm that represents the devotion of a mother, the ambitions of a daughter and the hopes of a neighborhood.

Pure Bliss Day Spa is owned by Alice and Rochelle Love, who have always enjoyed traveling together and trying different health and beauty treatments. "We are just spa girls," Rochelle, 35, says, laughing. Before opening Pure Bliss, Alice, 58, was a retired project manager for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, while Rochelle had turned her fondness for spa services into a career as an aesthetician.

Rochelle wanted her own shop and coaxed her mother out of retirement. Alice agreed to give it five years and suggested locating in the Georgia Avenue revitalization zone, where bars and blight are yielding to new businesses and spruced-up structures. "I know good things are coming," she says.

With Small Business Administration and home equity loans, as well as support from husband and father Roscoe Love, who is a retired Safeway produce clerk and maintains the spa, Alice and Rochelle, both D.C. residents, purchased and renovated a former dry cleaning store. They painted the rooms in rich hues of sand, sage, red and turquoise (calming sage is for the massage and facial rooms). The two-story salon, which opened in December 2005, also offers nail services and has a Vichy spa and a 10-head Swiss shower.

Marc Loud, executive director of the Georgia Avenue Gateway project, says other new businesses in the redevelopment program include a Ledo Pizza, a dental clinic, a consignment shop and a cellular phone store. "It's a nice, eclectic mix," he says. He believes the area, which borders Shepherd Park and Takoma, can support a day spa; the average household income within a half-mile is $93,015.

Pure Bliss customer Lynne McGuire grew up nearby and still works on Georgia Avenue. "I do think the response has been positive, because I've seen several friends over there," she says. "Shepherd Park has been trying to draw more upscale businesses to the area, and I think they succeeded with Pure Bliss."

Welcome as it may be, Pure Bliss has yet to turn a profit. And new-business survival rates are sobering; SBA statistics say only 44 percent make it at least four years. But Alice says the spa is seeing a steady rise in customers: It provided 130 services in January 2006 and 210 in January 2007.

While increasing business is a challenge facing Alice and Rochelle, getting along with each other isn't, though Alice is known to threaten, "I'm out of here in a year!" on tough days.

"I appreciate her because she has what I don't have," Rochelle says, praising her mother's business acumen.

One area of disagreement was what to call the spa, until a friend supplied the name. "Ah," she said, during a facial she was receiving from Rochelle, "this is pure bliss!"

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