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Working toward relaxation: After years of renovation, Fusions Spa relocates to downtown Sylva

After 35 straight days on the job, Jeannine Sowers is sorely in need of a spa day. The irony of it is, she’s been at the spa all month. Actually, all year.

Sowers and her husband Joel have been working since March 2013 to transform the old Moody Funeral Home building on Sylva’s Main Street into the new home of Fusions Spa. It’s been a long road.

“We kept asking ourselves through the entire process, ‘Why are we doing this? Tell me again why we’re doing this,’” Sowers said.

Built in 1946, the building had its share of issues to be fixed and innards to be updated, with the renovation process featuring multiple “surprises,” each of which set the timeline for completion back anywhere from six to eight months. There were times when it seemed the building would never be ready for massages or facials or soaks or any of the other services the couple aspired to offer.

But two days after the Aug. 9 soft opening, business seemed to be humming along at the comfortable, Zen-like pace one would expect of a spa. Herbal aromas float through the sunny reception area and waft down the hall into the treatment rooms. Soft music plays through the speaker system and sinks into the cushions of equally soft chairs and pillows. Nature photography, much of it from local artists, adorns the walls, and fresh flowers and carefully chosen knickknacks inhabit every corner.

“We’re going to calm Jackson County,” Sowers declared.

From herbal body wraps to chemical peels to a whole menu of massage treatments, Fusions certainly offers a long list of ways to get relaxed and focused on health. And as the business settles into its new space, the list is destined to get longer. Salt treatments to treat respiratory problems, beer baths, mineral and detox baths, raindrop oil treatment, reiki healing and foot soaks are all on the way. Sowers plans to offer yoga down the road, and memberships are already available for a fitness center that’s open in Fusions’ downstairs. Seminars and speakers will soon begin popping up to offer their expertise on a variety of nutrition- and health-related issues.

The spa, which takes up 7,500 square feet of the 11,000-square-foot building — the rest of the building is office space for the Sowers’ other business — employs nine people.

Judging by the gusto with which the Sowers have sunk themselves into renovating one of Sylva’s most visible downtown buildings, it might be easy to assume that owning a spa has been a lifelong dream. But the reality is that it just sort of happened.

The couple also owns Sundog Realty, and they’d purchased some property in Cullowhee with an eye to create a resort community. Fusions went up for sale, and they bought the business thinking they’d learn how to run it and then relocate it to the resort they planned to build. But the post-recession economy proved too poor to support a new resort, and they discovered that the logistics surrounding water use would make it too difficult to have a spa in Cullowhee anyway.

“We thought, ‘OK, we own a spa. We’ll do what we can and grow it as a business,’” Sowers said.

That’s not to say that Sowers is a novice when it comes to spas. Quite the opposite, in fact. “I’m a spa-goer from way back,” she said.

As a developer, Joel Sowers has worked on resort properties around the world, and Jeannine has traveled with him. It was a privilege to go along on these adventures, Sowers said, but she was always dealing with pain as she traveled.

“By the time you go through the airport I’d be a basket case,” she said. “By the time we got where we were going, the spa treatment was the first thing I booked.”

The spa allowed her to relax, get rid of the pain, and enjoy the trip.

And, as it turned out, gather a wealth of knowledge on worldwide spa treatments that she put to use in planning the rebirth of Fusions.

“Once you start going to spas it’s just something you’ve got to keep doing,” she said. “It’s just wonderful. So I’ve tried to create an atmosphere here that combines my favorite parts of a spa in one stop.”