By Mario Ziino Published Jan 21, 2004 at 5:39 AM

{image1}A good rub-down would be perfect right about now.

Got to work today and felt great. But by the time you punched in, the stress started mounting. A memo on your desk outlined why the big sales campaign, which consumed more time than it was worth, went over like a lead balloon.

The garage telephoned to say that little noise under the hood was an indication that the transmission was going. The annual holiday bonus check delivered by the mailroom courier was really an announcement that started with the words, "Due to..."

If that wasn't enough, the boss summoned everyone to his office for a rip session. And you were his favorite target. All this before noon.

How do you possibly make it through the rest of the day? The vein in your forehead, not to mention the muscles in your neck, is throbbing to the rhythm of the pounding in your chest.

You need relief. But your regular massage therapist won't take you without an appointment? Besides, you only have half an hour for lunch.

Ah, relax! Selfcares, the Third Ward's newest massage and relaxation spa, is just what the doctor ordered.

In this instance, the doctor is a doctor. When Jerry Lerner, a rehabilitation physician with experience in pain management, opened Selfcares in mid-October at 403 E. Buffalo St., his intentions were to treat such conditions.

Perhaps, a bit over-dramatized, the aforementioned scenario is not far from the truth. Stress can spring up on anyone at anytime. A few moments of peaceful pampering can usually reduce the tension.

"From my medical practice, I know that people do benefit from a massage at a spa, but it may be too expensive to go as often as people want," Lerner explains. And sometimes, it's inconvenient to go because it takes a week or so to get in with an appointment."

What Lerner offers at Selfcares is an alternative as the only no-appointment, walk-in, spa in town. The concept is so simple, it's brilliant.

"The questions were could we create a place that was simple enough and affordable enough so that people would use it regularly?" Lerner asks. "Before I opened, I had to answer those questions. Can I make it affordable? Yes. It's like going out to dinner or to a movie. Can I do it with no appointments? Yes. People can come in anytime they want to. And thirdly, can I do it conveniently for people? Yes, again. People do not have to feel awkward by sacrificing their privacy or being touched by someone.

Lerner says all it costs is $20 for an unlimited time. Selfcares is set up with a number of different stations for visitors to try.

"Each area is some form of relaxation and massage," he begins. "Something to take care of yourself. Each station is set for 15-minute intervals, but once you pay your fee, you can stay as long or short as you like. You can go from station to station. You can go back and use your favorites, again and again. Some people hang out here for an hour or two."

There are no visible clocks at Selfcares, therefore, customers don't feel like they are on one. Lerner has taken the cash register ringing element out of the scenario.

"To me that's an anti-relaxation mode," he says. "Imagine trying to relax thinking that for every minute that goes by you're getting charged? Not here. We're trying to create a lifestyle, social and wellness type of outlet."

The stations include the iJoy Lounge. The robotic chairs provide superior neck and shoulder relief. The setting is open affording friends to chat or individuals can sit and read or eat their lunch.

"If you got a few minutes on your lunch hour, come in and do our lunch hour special (half price) sit down and relax in these chairs," Lerner says. "We also have foot massagers or hand-held massagers in this open lounge area."

When you're ready for the real treat, Selfcares offers a number of semi-private areas.

One station presents three Aqua Thermassage Beds. Fully clothed and dry, the beds feature hydrotherapy using pressure effects of water. Customers receive the pleasure of soft tissue message, mobilization, heat and whirlpool treatments all in one.

"Take your shoes off and lie on your back or stomach," Lerner suggests. "It's very soothing. It's not unusual for people to fall asleep in there. Each bed has a personal CD player and headphones to enhance the relaxing atmosphere."

Recline into a zero-gravity position when you try the Tactile Acoustic Chair. Three chairs have vibroacoustic transducers that provide sensations of mind-altering music.

"I had it custom made," Lerner explains. "In addition to the headphone system, the transducers in the chair send the music directly into your body. You get a full sensory experience of music. Not only do you hear it, you feel it throughout your body. You become like a tuning fork. You vibrate with the music."

Then there's the Human Touch Recliner, the Cadillac of massage chairs. The four recliners replicate the techniques of a trained massage therapist rolling, kneading and compressing muscles. Computerized motion treats the entire body.

"You'd be surprised," Lerner says. "These chairs do massage. You would swear someone was behind you."

All these de-stress programs are included in the price.

Selfcares does offer a couple of pleasures ala carte. It has an Oxygen Aroma Café and a Sports Chair Hands-On Massage available.

"The concept behind the Oxygen Bar is that customers can clear their heads," Lerner says. "It's 90% pure oxygen. The oxygen perks them up. We make no medical claims for it, of course."

The Oxygen Bar offers flavored tanks ranging from eucalypts , grapefruit, lemon, lavender, a couple of different mints. It also has some holiday favorites, including vanilla and apple pie.

"The only hands-on massage is the Sports Chair," Lerner adds. "A customer is in a seated position and a massage therapist will actually give a neck massage. Right now, that's done on a limited basis, depending on volume."

Selfcares does sell packages for those who want to save on multiple visits. It could add up to a $6 savings per session. "Right now, we offer a winter special," Lerner says. "Three, six, 10 or 20 visits. We keep your name on account. Let's say you bought a package of six, all you would have to do is come in, give your name and it registers."

After regular business hours, private parties are becoming a popular feature of Selfcares, according to Lerner.

"We just had a birthday party here on a Sunday," he says. "About 30 people loved it. They spent about three hours here. They catered the party and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. It was a new age type of party."

Selfcares also offers corporate packages. "Companies can buy large number of visits and present them to employees or clients," Lerner adds. "They can use them as a way of saying thank you."

Selfcares also sells relaxation products from CDs to hand held devices to candles to gourmet hot teas. It is a distributor for the robotic chairs if anyone is interested in purchasing one for home use.

Lerner's vision was 10 years in the making, but as he says it, "Well worth it."

"I'm delighted how it's come together, he says. "I consider this a play land for adults. People come in here just for fun. This has a social component that's very different than anything else. You can come in with friends and hang out rather than going to a club or bar."

While people may have fun, Lerner is serious about the message of massage treatment.

"This is not designed to replace getting medical treatment," he concludes. "If someone needs to get a massage, will this replace it? I don't think so. But might they come here between visits? I believe they will. Just by the simple fact that we are seeing repeat customers. We are identifying regulars and people booking private parties. People leave with that look on their faces that I've seen when they leave a spa or massage therapist - a mellow, relaxed attitude. I think that's a sign that this concept works."

Selfcares is open seven days a week, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To book private parties, call (414) 273-1501.