Salt of the Earth

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Chittenden County’s premier salt cave opened in Essex’s Purple Sage salon earlier this month, filled with 20,000 pounds of Himalayan salt. The pink-hued dome offers therapy for everything from respiratory to skin conditions, according to owner Kim Scofield, in a relaxing environment. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

The entrance into Chittenden County’s inaugural salt cave is not exactly modest.

A small waiting room sitting behind the first set of glass double doors in the Purple Sage salon suggests an intense experience awaits, water station and basket of clean white socks at the ready off to the side.

Ahead is a second set of double doors — these made of dark, hand-carved wood. Salon employees open them with a mischievous smirk, eyes glued to the faces of the customer seeing the impressive installation for the first time.

Inside, a dimly lit, pink-hued dome awaits, filled with 20,000 pounds of Himalayan salt. The mineral is carved into bricks lining a “fireplace,” ground up into beads on the floor and puffed into the chamber as a vapor. Lounge chairs are situated in a semi-circle, mimicking a day at the world’s strangest beach.

“Our tagline is 45 minutes in the cave is equivalent to two days at the ocean,” salon owner Kim Scofield said, rattling off the list of benefits people usually notice after a coastal vacation. “It is the healing power of salt.”

Termed “halotherapy,” salt-based treatments can treat everything from respiratory to skin problems in a relaxing atmosphere, Scofield said. The way she tells it, the negative ions in the salt cave counteract the positive ions transmitted by electronics, essentially amplifying the results promised by the popular salt lamps.

Because the cave is kept at a surprisingly chilly 70 degrees, visitors are offered blankets to cover up. Phones and shoes are banished from the cave, but visitors can wear any clothing that’s comfortable.

Purple Sage salon owner Kim Scofield moved her business to an expanded space in the Essex Outlets, making room for a host of holistic services, including a salt cave, natural manicures and Reiki healing therapy. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Patrons will need to drink a lot of water after their treatment and can expect some, ahem, “elimination” in the following days, Scofield said. A standard 45-minute session in the Purple Sage space will run customers $35.

“The comment to me as soon as they walk in the door is, ‘Wow, I can feel it. This feels good,’” Scofield said. “They walk out, and everybody is smiling, even if they’ve only stood in their for five or 10 minutes.”

Scofield is marketing the experience as an unorthodox site for bridal parties, or business meetings and even plans to host a dedicated day for kids and their parents to check out the cavern.

She hatched the whole idea after visiting a salt cave in Montgomery, in search of relief for her own bodily aches and pains. A longtime hairdresser and astute businesswoman, she was concurrently on the hunt for a larger space to house her growing Essex salon.

A consultant specializing in constructing salt caves said a ground-level space built on a slab was the ideal host. Scofield didn’t have to look far to find those specs, eventually signing up to take over the former Ralph Lauren 7,300-square foot building in the Essex Outlets.

Outlet owner Peter Edelmann, weighing a major overhaul of the struggling shopping center himself, presented an interesting question before Scofield made the final decision: “Why would you want to come to a complex that was dying?”

“I have a feeling that you’re not going to let it die,” Scofield recalled telling him. “I’d like to be a part of this revitalization.”

Scofield has since become a vocal advocate for the complex, often talking with area business owners about the new “lifestyle” vision for the hub. If the shopping center does well, Scofield opined, Purple Sage does well.

She’s taken many of Edelmann’s strategies for the complex as a whole and applied them to her boutique on a smaller scale. The shop now sells Vermont-made skin and body care, for example, offering a compelling experience for tourists and locals alike.

Old school Vermonters are skeptics, Scofield said with a laugh, but there’s also a contingency of holistic minded residents eager to embrace non-traditional therapies.

Several new spa services are also in the works to fill the massive space, including rooms for Reiki healing, massage, facials and natural manicures and pedicures. Scofield also plans to open an old school barbershop to serve male clientele, complete with hot shaves and sleek leather styling chairs.

“The need is there, and people were asking for it,” Scofield said. “Everything that everybody has been asking me for, I have put into this space.”

Even with the rapid expansion – Purple Sage went from four employees to 15 and counting – Scofield said the shop hasn’t abandoned its original hair salon service. In fact, she believes the slate of offerings work seamlessly together.

“When you feel beautiful on the inside, the outside feels beautiful,” Scofield said. “They go hand in hand.”