New spa opens near Ninth and Iowa; company with local ties vying to make 1 billion coffee cups for Dunkin’ Donuts
I sure could use a spa treatment after this past weekend. I’m sure we all could. First, there were the handsprings following the KU football team’s win over the University of Michigan. (Why do my geography and editing teachers keep texting me?) Then there were the series of violent swings with a baseball bat at my 12-foot bean dip statue of Sluggerrr following the Kansas City Royals games on Friday and Saturday. Well, we’re in luck because a new luxury spa has opened in Lawrence. (I think I’m going to have to first wash some of this bean dip off, though.)
Sensora Spa has opened at 930 Iowa St. in the Hillcrest Professional Building that includes a host of medical offices.
“We looked at a ton of places on the west side of town and elsewhere, but a lot of places were just too loud for a spa,” said Lara Thompson-Countess, an owner and esthetician at the spa.
Thompson-Countess said finding the right environment for the business was important. Sensora touts itself as one of the few locations in the area that is entirely a spa rather than a combination spa/hair stylist location.
“You won’t hear hairdryers here or smell the chemicals from nail treatments,” Thompson-Countess said. “People can feel instantly relaxed once they walk in the door. We want people to walk in here and leave the outside behind.”
The business employs six therapists, including three massage therapists and three estheticians, which of course are professionals who specialize in skin treatments and other such beauty techniques.
And boy, are there a lot of techniques. The spa offers six forms of massage, including the traditional Swedish massage, hot stone massage, and something called Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage. (I envision Sluggerrr enjoying this. He uses three Rs after all, so I assume he likes things that repeat themselves.)
The business also offers a host of hair-removal treatments, facials, body scrubs, customized lip treatments, and herbology treatments, where a therapist rubs citrus oil on your body and wraps you in a blanket of Chinese herbs. There is even something called an eyebrow tint, which I know nothing about. (See the photo that runs with this column everyday to understand why a certain someone in my house said an eyebrow tint for me would require an automotive spray paint booth.)
Thompson-Countess has been in the spa industry in the area for several years and long had wanted to open her own business. She had assumed, however, that it would be in her native England, but she married a Kansas resident, and they landed in Lawrence. She still has the English accent, though, which is very relaxing in itself. (It is a fact that the BBC has caused more people to fall asleep than any other organization in the world.)
Sensora opened a couple of weeks ago. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps in the future when you buy a cup of to-go coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts you won’t just be putting money into the pocket of your dry cleaner, but you also may be helping out a manufacturer with local ties. The trade journal Plastics News (I read it right before I turn the BBC on) reports that Berry Plastics is working to develop a recyclable plastic cup that would replace all the foam coffee cups sold by Dunkin’. Berry Plastics has a major manufacturing facility in Lawrence. I’m not certain that the cups would be made in Lawrence. It looks like the company’s technology to produce that particular line of polypropylene cup is located in a Kentucky facility.
But Berry also operates a large distribution center in Douglas County. It is the big building you see just west and north of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. I’m not sure what role that distribution center may play in the project, but the Dunkin’ deal would be a big one. Dunkin’, according to the Plastics News article, is America’s largest retailer of coffee by the cup. The article indicates Dunkin’ may have a demand for about 1 billion cups per year if it decides to move forward with the project, which currently is in the test market stage.
So, at the moment, this appears to be one to merely keep an eye on. But I found it interesting nonetheless because what is good for Berry potentially could be good for Lawrence.
It's time to start keeping an eye on one of Douglas County's larger employers.
A leading trade publication is reporting that Berry Plastics has made a decision to close five plants and make a $100 million investment in another one. Thus far, Berry's operations in Douglas County aren't on either the expansion or closure lists, but two more plant closings are still to be announced.
The trade publication Plastics News is reporting that Evansville, Ind.-based Berry Plastics is set to close five production plants in an effort to cut about $27 million in annual operating costs. At the same time, Berry is in the process of making a $100 million investment to expand its production capacity of a growing polypropylene cup line.
Berry operates two facilities in Douglas County: a manufacturing plant that years ago was part of the Lawrence-based Packerware Corp. and a large new warehouse and printing operation just west of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike.
Thus far, Berry has only announced three of the five plants it intends to close. They are in Houston, Kent, Wash., and Alsip, Ill. The other two plants will be announced in the coming months, according to the article in Plastics News.
I talked with a spokeswoman at Berry's corporate headquarters, and she gave the fairly standard line that she couldn't comment on whether the Lawrence plant is under consideration for closing. An economic development professional at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, however, told me this morning that he also had talked with a Berry official and was assured that Lawrence wasn't one of the plants being considered for closure.
So make of that what you will at the moment. One factor that seems to be in Lawrence's favor is that Berry, within the last couple of years, invested more than $20 million to build a major distribution center near the Lecompton interchange of the Kansas Turnpike. For Berry to close its production plant after making such a major investment in a distribution center would seem to be an odd course of action.
What is clear is that Lawrence didn't win an internal competition within Berry to land a major $100 million project. The Plastics News article reports that Berry is converting a once shuttered plant in Madisonville, Ky., to receive $100 million in upgrades to make its Versalite line of beverage cups. The expansion, which began in late 2012, is expected to create about 400 jobs.
The Versalite line of cups seems to be the hottest part of Berry's business right now. It is a new process for making recyclable plastic to-go cups. The Subway sandwich chain already uses the cups. I'm not sure whether the development of the Versalite product is good news or bad news for Berry's operations in Lawrence.
Back in 2009 we were reporting one of the major reasons Berry needed a new distribution center is because of high demand for a new drink cup line that was being produced in Lawrence. It was lighter weight and more environmentally friendly. But company spokeswoman Eva Schmitz confirmed that Lawrence does not produce the Versalite line of cups.
That's significant because it appears that Versalite is the product the company is betting on for the future. When Douglas County officials approved a tax abatement and other incentives for the project 2011, the hope was that the new distribution center would create more jobs in the future by opening up space in Berry's production plant. The distribution center itself only created about a dozen new jobs, although it transferred about 200 jobs out of the Lawrence production plant to the distribution center.
Schmitz said she did not know whether the Lawrence production plant was ever in the running to land the $100 million Versalite project and its 400 jobs. She said the Kentucky facility was chosen because it was closer to Berry's research and development labs in Evansville.
At the moment there appear to be two questions Lawrence leaders will want answered: 1. Is the Lawrence plant being considered for closure? 2. If not, have Lawrence's hopes for a major expansion by Berry been dashed?
Perhaps Berry already has expanded all it can at the Lawrence plant. It has been difficult over the years to keep track of how many employees Berry has in Lawrence. In 2007, a company representative said it had about 500 employees in Lawrence. By 2009, when the company was adding equipment for a drink cup line, it had about 950.
The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's latest job survey, which was taken last year, showed about 740 employees. Schmitz is working to confirm the company's current Lawrence workforce totals. (UPDATE: Schmitz at Berry confirmed the company has about 650 employees currently. The 950 number of years ago included a large number of temporary workers, she said.)
I'll let you know when I hear more. But this one will be an interesting one to watch. A closure of the plant, of course, would be a major blow to the local economy. I think local officials feel a closure is unlikely. The larger question may be whether Berry will be expanding in Lawrence like officials had once hoped when county commissioners approved a significant amount of incentives for the company.
We'll see. At the moment, it is kind of feeling like the 2012 National Championship game: Kentucky over Kansas.