Shockoe Bottom gym owner bulks up business with new next door spa

Jacob Keller is the owner of Prism and River City Fit. (Noah Daboul photo)

Looking to capitalize on an empty storefront next to his increasingly popular gym, Jacob Keller is branching out with a new venture.

Keller last month opened Prism Spa at 12 N. 25th St., directly next door and sharing the same building with his gym River City Fit.

Prism was created as a space for Keller’s gym clients to have a proper recovery after their workouts.

“(The two businesses) lend themselves well to exist together,” Keller said. “What we do here is intense, so the recovery piece is so important. The way you get fitter is by recovery. You can do all the work you want but if you aren’t getting proper sleep, nutrition and other recovery, it’s going to be hard to make it worth it.”

River City Fit currently has 140 members, marking exponential growth since reopening in June 2020 after the initial doldrums of the pandemic. Keller said the gym’s revenue was just shy of $9,000 in June 2020, and June 2021 was just over $45,000.

The sauna space has served in part as a way to show thanks to those loyal members, Keller said.

“On certain memberships here, you can get a free sauna session each week,” he said. “Everybody who has been a member here, especially through the pandemic, I offer them a free sauna session just as a token of gratitude.”

River City Fit opened in 2019, offering fitness through a mix of cardio and weight training.

Keller described it as a barbell-biased strength and conditioning studio. Four classes per week costs $165 per month, while five classes a week are $185 monthly.

A single spa session at Prism costs $35.

Keller said his landlord was happy to let him take over the 1,200-square-foot space for the sauna because retail was doing so poorly during the pandemic.

Keller outfitted the space with six sauna rooms plus a massage room and a lounge.

Keller took out a $150,000 loan from TowneBank. The six saunas cost about $38,000 altogether. He said the furnishing and drywall costs were some of the biggest he had to face.

Interior design for the sauna storefront was done by Alicia Conrad of Flourish Spaces, branding work was done by Palindrome Creative Co., Cross Creek Nursery helped to set up the plants and Taylor Construction did the remodeling work.

Prism also works with Ninja Kombucha, a local kombucha brewery on Brookland Park Boulevard, and sells their cans at the spa. They hope to add some kind of nitro coffee or tea as well.

Coming out of a pandemic and the spread of respiratory illness remaining at the forefront of people’s minds, Keller said he prioritizes keeping his cedar saunas disinfected and sanitized.

“Cedar is a natural antibacterial, and it’s so hot that everything is evaporating. There’s no moisture, which is how bacteria and viruses grow. It’s really easy to clean. You take a damp rag, give it a wipe, everything evaporates and the antibacterial from the cedar kills everything,” he said.

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