Lift's tank at night (photo by Gina Antioco)
Apr 26, 2021
Float people: Therapy gets weightless
Two flotation spas in Brooklyn underscore the growing popularity of getting tanked—therapeutically. Just don't call it sensory deprivation
Flotation therapy has been growing in popularity over the last few years. It’s basically relaxation through floating in lukewarm or body temperature water mixed with magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt). But don’t call it “sensory deprivation.” The float industry (which is a real thing!) no longer uses that phrase due to the torture undertones those words evoke. Makes sense. It would be like describing a sauna as “my invisible fire box.”
Personally, I love floating. I have clinically diagnosed depression and general anxiety disorder, as well as a not-so-general living-in-New-York-City stress disorder. A monthly float helps me stay calm and improves my quality of sleep. You get your own private tank and can tailor the experience to your own needs: Swimming suit or naked? Lights on or black-out dark? It’s up to you.
I spoke with the owners of two Brooklyn float spas: 6-year-old Lift / Next Level Floats in Carroll Gardens and Vessel Floats, up in my neighborhood of Greenpoint, which opened mid-pandemic. We talked about getting through the shutdown, floating for the masses and their shared love of Brooklyn.
Lift / Next Level Floats
When I arrive at Lift, owners Gina Antioco and David Levanthal are tinkering with the virtual reality float experience they’re about to launch.
When do you expect a full VR rollout?
Gina Antioco: Ideally at our six year [anniversary]. End of May. Something fresh to offer while we’re celebrating six years of business.
This is a luxury experience. Do you see a way this becomes affordable for people whose job is standing all day and not getting paid a lot?
GA: We actually, after Covid, started a community floats program. If people contact us we can set them up with basically half-price floats.
I love that!
GA: It’s our way to give back to people who have been severely financially impacted. Fortunately for us it’s easy to give something like that away during our off-peak hours. And I’d love if you put that in: We’re trying to get the word out.
How did Covid hit the business and what did you do to survive?
David Levanthal: We were shut down for almost four months. We weren’t able to use the first round of PPP as effectively as we could have, but thankfully we were able to get the second round as well as the economic injury disaster loans.
GA: And I have to say, people in Brooklyn were just really understanding and patient. Everyone had the same mentality: “We’re Brooklynites and we’re here to support and be kind to each other.” That means a lot to us.
When you were looking for locations were you aiming for a certain part of town or a space that speaks to you?
DL: At the time we were looking for spaces in Manhattan as well, but Brooklyn was more reasonable. And I previously lived in this neighborhood and knew the landlord so that helped.
GA: And I used to work at the bar downstairs.
What would you say to a person who is curious to try floating, but lumps it in with a health fad flavor of the month?
GA: They really have to come in and try it. The experience will vary person to person. That’s why we say don’t give us one try give us three and that’s why we have this discounted bundle: $67 per float. And we don’t want people to share it because we want each individual to experience them.
You definitely have a calming environment. And Leo the shop dog is a great touch.
GA: We planned him that way.
I head 12 stops up the G to Greenpoint Avenue and West Street to Vessel Floats. Designed, owned and operated by Christian Redding, Vessel suffered countless setbacks before their doors even opened, yet managed to stay… wait for it … afloat. (Sorry.)
Opening a business is already a huge financial risk and you did it right smack in the middle of a pandemic. So my first question is: are you insane?
I don’t know if it’s apathy or you just have to keep going at some point. We had been working to open since March of ’19. And I had raised money three months prior to that.
Raising as in a GoFundMe?
No I have some investors. I was in finance before this. I can look WASPY and bro-ey with a crewcut. Didn’t love that world, but had been in it for a while.
This ponytail does say more “I own a float spa.”
I don’t think I can cut it at this point. Especially if I start balding. It’s gonna have to be Swedish professor who keeps the pony with a receding hairline. [Laughs]
The layout is beautiful. I wouldn’t have thought float spa when I first walked by.
People think it’s a lobby. Or a failing restaurant. We could be full in the back and look empty out front.
When were you scheduled to open?
In March 2020. That didn’t happen so I spent three months in here floating by myself.
Wow. Every day?
Well, it was done and I had no customers because we hadn’t operated for a single day. So I used them for three hours a day. It’s all I could do to stay sane. We didn’t qualify for SBA emergency funds: We were a new business with no prior financial track record. We weren’t eligible for any of it.
Even the second round of relief?
There was PPP which was supposed to cover payroll but we didn’t have any payroll. Second round of PPP we got since we have a staff now. Still haven’t heard about the disaster loan, which for us would clear up what we owe the landlord.
At what point did you finally hire someone?
Late June or early July. I was afraid to spend money with talks of another shutdown.
How about your investors?
They were all cool. They were kind of like, “Well this is our mildly suicidal business operator.” [Laughs] No, but they checked in. “How’s suffering going?” I also found my breaking point. I cried in the shower once or twice.
The showers here?
Yeah here. We can laugh about it now.
Can you pinpoint a specific breaking point day?
We had a really busy day and I was turning rooms between guests. I think it was August and I was so tired. I just sat down. I was getting called by the landlord every day for more money. It was a game of everyone needed more. I remember seeing him call and I was in there cleaning. And I was tired of being hunted down.
When did you start to see a light at the end of the tunnel?
October maybe? We had a staff at that point. I was spending more than I wanted, but I had the time to step back and focus on the bigger picture. Instagram for me, if there was a weak point for me running a business, Instagram sucks a lot of time for just headspace and energy.
Do you do ads now?
Yeah. So it started clicking. And we’ve had a steady growth in numbers since then. We’re profitable now. We’re doing pretty well and we’re only at 50 percent capacity.
As of when?
Our first profitable month was December. Gift cards were a total unexpected thing, but that brought us over and kept going up.
So what would you say to the people who just spent 14 months locked in their box to go into one of yours?
It’s different. I really hate being alone but I really enjoy it in there. It also if I’m going through a rough time being alone, I’m sure like most people do when a feeling comes up you’re avoiding it with well I‘ll just check my phone. It’s a good way to reset and enjoy being alone.
So your solution to being alone is being alone. It’s like that type of therapy I can’t remember the name of right now.
There you go. Prices all hover around the $75 -$100 range. Is there a world where this becomes more affordable?
I’d love to do a sliding scale option for people who really need it. I’m trying to figure out the way to do it without it being abused. Once we have all six tanks in we’ll be the biggest on the east coast. So with scale we’ll be able to do it at a cheaper rate.
Why here in Brooklyn?
I feel very at home in Greenpoint and Vessel feels at home here. This is our market. We consciously chose Greenpoint over Williamsburg. There’s more of a community and the retail there is too brand heavy. And we have 50 feet of glass front which we couldn’t have gotten in Williamsburg. And I like being on the water.
I imagine getting out walking to the water and maybe—
Watch a sunset? Yeah.
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