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Movie theater becomes eco-friendly spa at Icicle Village Resort: from popcorn to pampering.


Turning a weed-filled, 7.5-acre lot at Highway 2 and Icicle Road in Leavenworth into a family friendly full-service resort was the vision of developer Dick Beselin and CPA Vern Thoreson in the late 1980s.

They were soon joined in the project by Paul Jinneman, a hotel consultant, hotelier Karl Ruether and Chuck Aim.

The 66-room Best Western Icicle Inn opened in Aug. 17,1992, with Ruether serving as the general manager.

The Icicle Junction Family Fun Center, featuring a video arcade, bumper boats and miniature train, made its debut in 1996, followed by the expansion of the hotel a couple years later. A single-screen movie theater was added to the arcade building in 2000 and a restaurant, JJ Hills, opened inside the hotel in 2001.

In 2005, a dozen condominiums were introduced, with another 22 units added in 2007.

The Icicle Village Resort celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2012.

"It continues to find ways to reinvent itself," Ruether said.


The reinvention continues as pampering has replaced popcorn in the space that until January was Leavenworth's Icicle Junction Cinema, a single-screen movie theater that shared space with the arcade for a dozen years.

Alpine Spa opened in May at 565 U.S. Highway 2, featuring massage, body treatments, a steam room, manicures and pedicures in the newly revamped space.

The spa idea is not new to the Icicle Village Resort. Therapeutic Touch and Wellness had been leasing space inside the Best Western Icicle Inn since 2007. The business was purchased by Dr. Chandra Villano in 2009, who continued to lease the space and cater to hotel guests and others.

Villano, a naturopathic physician and licensed massage practitioner, had started Vibrant Health in East Wenatchee in 2005, offering naturopathic consulting and nutritional medicine. She also had taught massage classes at the school in Wenatchee for several years.

Then, in 2013, several things came together that resulted in some big changes for Villano and the Icicle Village Resort.

That spring, Villano realized her work/ life balance was seriously out of kilter and she decided to sell the massage business in Leavenworth.

"I worked every holiday and weekend for five years," she said. "It was too much."

About that same time, the Icicle Village Resort owners were facing pressure to upgrade the movie theater from film to digital, at a cost of $60,000 to $100,000. It was a move that had been coming for several years, said Karl Ruether, a partner and general manager in the resort.

Movie companies were moving away from producing the film reels, which eventually would limit the theater's access to movies.

Rather than invest in the new technology for the single screen theater with limited revenue potential, the owners decided to get out of the theater business and get into the luxury spa business, filling a void left with the closure of several other spas in the-tourist mecca, including Solstice Spa, Eden Day Spa and Blossoms.

Knowing Villano was interested in getting out of the day-to-day operation of the massage business, but had not yet found a buyer, Ruether asked Villano if she would be interested in serving as a consultant in getting a new venture, Alpine Spa, off the ground.

She agreed.

"He made me an offer I couldn't refuse," she said, which included creating a sustainable, green spa, using certified organic products and practices free of harsh chemicals and fragrances.

That was in the fall of 2013. She agreed to stay on for a year to get the spa up and running.

Ruether said making the move started with running the feasibility on the project.

"It's difficult to forecast revenues," he said, "but we had the history of Therapeutic Touch. We knew it was busy and what was in demand."

That included the couples room, which was always booked, and a steam room, which Therapeutic Touch did not have.

"We were turning people away all the time," Villano said.

"We worked the numbers and by early December decided to move forward," Ruether said.

The owners also are adding a new wing to the hotel next door that includes a ballroom on the ground floor, with guest rooms on the second and third floors.

The movie theater closed its doors on Dec. 31. Its final showing was "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."

The building remodel started in January. Jeff Hoffman of BRCA in Wenatchee designed the project. Rimmer and Roeter of Cashmere was the contractor.

The new facility has six treatment rooms, including two couples massage rooms, which allow two massages at the same time for friends, mothers and daughters or couples, a steam room, relaxation area, office and reception area.

The remodeled space also includes a change to what had been the arcade and snack bar.

The arcade area was reduced to the all-time favorites and the snack bar was turned into more of a family friendly sports bar, with comfortable seating and televisions for watching sporting events, as well as a large screen that could be used for movies on cold snowy evenings.

At least that's one of the ideas.

"We're not there yet," Ruether said.

Villano, in the meantime, started working on finding the organic products for the spa and writing the protocols for staff.

Some of that she was already doing at Therapeutic Touch, which remained open during the construction.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was figuring out how to provide manicures and pedicures that met the "green" standard--no synthetics, fragrances or dyes.

She did it, she said.

"Clients can get a treatment versus a shellacking," she said.

She is still looking for a way to provide hair salon services, but finding "green" hair products, especially for coloring processes, is impossible--so far.

Maybe one day, she said.

Finding the balance between providing the services that the guests want with being green can be difficult, she said.

"I would love to cater to everyone," she said, "but we are being choosy and trying to provide some education as well."

The Icicle Village Resort owners have embraced the vision as well, using sustainable construction products and investing in quality equipment that meets the standards.

Therapeutic Touch closed and Alpine Spa opened in the first week in May, with five of the Therapeutic Touch employees on staff and Villano serving as a consultant. In addition, Alpine Spa added estheticians and cosmetologists to provide the waxing, peels and nails that were not offered before.

During the transition, as the construction project wound down, Villano worked with employees on training and figuring out how to set the stage for clients to make sure the pampering was as relaxing as it was healthy.

"In April I was rewriting protocols to match the space," she said, as well as the new features, such as the steam room.

The staff received training on the products as well as the procedures, ranging from lighting (no candles) to laundry. Villano put together recipes for the spa to make its own hand soap, sanitizer, room spray and disinfectant--all without chemicals or fragrances hazardous to those with asthma or other breathing problems.

Once Alpine Spa opened, the next step was marketing. Perhaps the biggest help on that end was the ability to have a sign on the highway to draw in clients from outside the hotel as well as those staying on the property.

Leavenworth's strict sign code did not allow a sign advertising the spa when it was inside the walls of the hotel. Because the cinema was in a separate building, it had its own sign.

That has made a difference, Villano said.

Icicle Village Resort also participates in the Think Local First campaign that encourages businesses to buy at least 10 percent of their supplies and materials locally. With that in mind, the spa provides its guests with chocolate from Chocolat, a Leavenworth chocolatier.

"Just the dark chocolate, of course," she said.

As for finding the balance in her own life, Villano said things are going much better since she is no longer responsible for the payroll, the taxes and other details of actually owning the business.

"Icicle Village Resort has an accounting department that does that," she said.
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Author:McDaniels, Nevonne
Publication:Wenatchee Business Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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