By the summer of 2009, the tanning salon on Hand Avenue in Cape May Court House was in shambles, the owner said.
Kirstie Kelleher said her mother opened Images Tanning Boutique in 1994, but sold it in 2001. It went downhill from there.
In the spring of 2006, owner Richard Riehl, and his brother, Albert Riehl, were arrested after they were caught using hidden cameras to spy on customers in the tanning beds. Both later pleaded guilty to invasion-of-privacy charges.
A woman bought the salon and changed the name to Suntastic, but the business failed, Kelleher said. Kelleher’s father, who owns the building, evicted the owner and asked Kirstie to take over.
Kelleher, 19, at first said she wanted none of it. She was more interested in hanging out with her friends than in running a business. She thought about going to school to become a nurse.
“I did one semester at (Atlantic Cape Community College) and decided I didn’t want to do that anymore,” she said. “I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I came back and busted my hump.”
Kelleher said she took over the Suntastic Tan shop in September 2009 with some financial help from her dad. But she had to learn about the tanning business on her own as she worked to restore the salon.
“There’s been sweat, blood, tears and everything in here,” Kelleher said. “I love it, but I don’t have friends anymore. This is my life.”
Kelleher said she reads trade journals and researches information about the tanning business on the Internet. She travels to trade shows and asks other owners for advice. Distributors of the products she uses are also helpful.
She went to Las Vegas to get her master’s certification in spray tanning, which is becoming more popular as people want a tanned look without the risk of skin damage, Kelleher said.
“I try to put myself in a customer’s shoes as much as I possibly can,” Kelleher said. “It’s lots of work, but it’s worth it.”
The work seems to be paying off. This summer, Suntastic Tan was voted the third-best tanning salon on the Jersey Shore Hot List.
The salon was recently refurbished, Kelleher said. She bought two new high-pressure tanning beds, which are more expensive, but don’t burn users.
An infrared light therapy bed, originally developed by NASA, is another addition. The treatment is becoming popular, as it is said to help remove wrinkles, clear acne and relieve muscle pain, Kelleher said.
A grand re-opening will be held today to show off the new facilities to the public, Kelleher said.
She hopes to turn Suntastic Tan into a spa one day, and perhaps open another branch, Kelleher said.
But Kelleher said she still has to work hard to overcome the salon’s shady past. She advertises heavily, and emphasizes the fact that the salon is back in the family of the original owner.
“Some people still won’t come because of the reputation,” Kelleher said. “They’re still distant because of that.”
But for now she does her best to convince the public that she’s honest, the peepholes are history and that she’s here to stay, she said.
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