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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Spas across the United States appear recession-proof as record numbers of Americans pay for treatments from massages to manicures to deal with stress amid the global financial crisis, an industry group said on Monday.
There were more than 160 million visits to U.S. spas in 2008, up nearly 16 percent from the previous year, while industry revenue grew almost 18 percent to $12.8 billion, a study by the International Spa Association showed.
"The spa industry is recession proof," Lynne McNees, president of the Lexington, Kentucky-based association, told Reuters. "The economy is hitting everyone across the board but it also is creating a whole lot of stress ... We know that the No. 1 reason people go to spas worldwide is to reduce stress."
In New York, spas offering manicures, pedicures and massage are almost as ubiquitous as the city's yellow taxi cabs.
"I definitely have not cut back on the manicures and pedicures," said Ashley McAdams, 33, a website editor, as she left a West Village salon with purple polish on her toes.
"I am definitely shopping less for clothes," she said. "If I'm not going to buy a lot of big purchases at least I can keep myself up with manicure and pedicures."
Although the number of visits to spas grew in 2008, so did the number of locations -- up 19 percent to 21,300 -- resulting in flat revenue per spa location.
"People are still going," McNees said. "They're still walking in the door because they see it as an investment in health."
Carrie Chasteen, 30, a resident of Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood who monitors medication effects for a drug company, likes to get a pedicure and a massage to relieve stress.
"Sometimes I use shopping as therapy but lately I feel like I use this more as therapy," said Chasteen as she dried her toe nails that had been painted "Fancy Delancey" fuchsia. "I feel like it's more beneficial for me and more relaxing."
But with more spas competing against each other some salons said times are tough. Spas are defined by the International Spa Association as a business that offers two of the following -- massage, skin care, body treatments.
On a summer Sunday afternoon the Think Pink nail salon in Manhattan's West Village, which also offers massages and facials, is normally bustling. But owner Grace Lee told Reuters that business has fallen about 30 percent in the past year.
"It's very slow," she said as several of her staff waited patiently for customers. "People say that this industry is recession-proof but that's not my experience."
Another salon she owns in Midtown Manhattan is faring better with business only down about 15 percent because "it is in more of a hotel area and the tourists have money."
But the economic downturn isn't all bad news for Lee who plans to open another salon in Manhattan's swank Soho after securing a prize location with heavily discounted rent.
"A lot of people want to open there but the rent is crazy. But this time the landlord wanted to make a deal because so many stores have for rent signs in the windows," she said. "This is going to be my chance because I know that in one or two years good business will come back."
The Merrill Lynch/Capgemini World Wealth Report released last month showed that while 40 percent of people with fortunes of more than $1 million were cutting back on luxury travel and luxury goods, more than 50 percent said they were spending more on health and wellness, such as spa visits.
But Lola Kirke, 18, a student who lives in the West Village, described pedicures as an "unnecessary extravagance" as she had her toe nails painted "punchy pink."
"I only come really for special occasions, the last one I had was on vacation. This time my toes are so ugly I had to come and get it done," she said. "It's only when it gets necessary that I come."
Editing by Mark Egan and Vicki Allen