Essential oils in a one-time stable
by Sally Mitani
Ever since the Argieros' short-lived Italian grocery in the mid-nineties, the fine nineteenth-century brick building on the corner of Catherine and Fifth has cried out for a tenant whose trade matched its lovely Old World exterior. It seems to have met its match in Jessica's Skin & Body Apothecary.
Owned by the Argiero family, whose namesake restaurant is next door, the building has housed businesses selling everything from used cars to computer supplies. Most recently, it was a medical marijuana clinic. But long ago, it was a stable for the Wurster Dairy's dray horses--Jessica Elkins points to the second story window that opened onto the old hayloft.
Elkins seems a little pre-industrial herself. Wearing a silky gray fitted smock with intricate pleats over a skirt and striped stockings, and presiding over an array of oils and mineral compounds, she looks like someone you'd find on the back streets of nineteenth-century Montmartre. "It's a uniform. You get these from uniform shops," she insists of her tunic. Maybe so, but it has panache.
"Are you going to make me sound like a product junkie?" Elkins asks. "I never washed my face in high school." Now, though, she follows a multi-step cleansing and makeup ritual, finishing with "eyelid primer and three eye shadows." Probably a little intense for most people, it seems to be working for her: at thirty-seven, she could pass for early twenties.
After training as an esthetician, Elkins worked for a time in Livonia, but "I always had my interest in essential oils and botanicals and how they affect the skin." Six years ago, she started a tiny business in the backroom of A2Yoga called Ananeo ("loosely 'renewal' in Greek"). As she began mixing more and more of her own products, she dropped "Ananeo," branded herself, and began looking for a bigger space.
The building had hardly been touched since Tony Argiero laid the red tile floor in the 1980s. She put in maple flooring, painted the walls white, and hired
Ray Wetzel to build the walnut counter and shelves that hold her essential oils. Upstairs she offers massage, waxing, and facials; downstairs she sells a couple of high-end product lines she trusts. "Instead of just going to a drugstore and picking up a product, we want everybody to see an esthetician for a skin consultation," Elkins says. "An esthetician will touch your skin, talk to you, educate you."
It's restorative just to stand before her vast shelves of essential oils and choose fragrances to be mixed drop by drop into "carrier" oils (avocado, almond, and the like), sugars, and salts, to make lotions and body scrubs. A custom-blended six-ounce jar of salt scrub might, for instance, cost about $30, but could go quite a bit higher. Essential oils are priced by the drop: 2c for the lowly eucalyptus, $1.69 for a drop of precious neroli.
Jessica's Skin & Body Apothecary, 301 N. Fifth Ave., 545-4303. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. www.jessicasapothecary.com
[Originally published in January, 2013.]