New York: In the bedroom of her East Village, New York, apartment, Alison Mazur relaxed into her chair and sighed contentedly while an aesthetician coated her nails in taupe polish. It was the first professional manicure-pedicure she’d had in four months, since coronavirus restrictions forced salons across the country to close their doors.
Mazur had to put her normal beauty regimen, which included regular manicures, on hold during the pandemic. But between anxiety about the virus and the stress of running her photography business, she eventually realised she wanted to take a little time for herself.
“I was like, what the heck, I live in New York City — there’s got to be a company that’s doing something to accommodate self-care during this time,” she said.
A Google search led her to MySpa2Go, which is based in the city and provides at-home nail services, waxing, facials, make-up, eyelash extensions, haircuts and massages, for a premium price. A deluxe manicure-pedicure runs $125 (Dh459), notably higher than the usual price at a New York City nail salon.
“Considering that I hadn’t gotten one in so long, it was a special treat,” Mazur said.
Before the pandemic, getting a manicure, buying a movie ticket, attending an exercise class or going on a shopping trip were relatively affordable pastimes for the upper-middle class. But the virus has increasingly made these pursuits even more exclusive — available at a premium for those affluent enough to enjoy them in a private setting.
Rent a theatre...or a pool
Miss going to the movies? For about $350, you can rent an entire auditorium at Movie house & Eatery, a luxury theatre chain in Texas. Eager to get back to your exercise routine? Gymguyz, a personal training company based in Plainview, New York, offers socially distanced one-on-one workouts in customers’ homes or backyards for $70 to $100.
If swimming is your thing, Swimply allows you to rent a private pool in someone’s backyard for $45 to $60 an hour, either for solo lap swimming or group parties.
Need retail therapy? Bergdorf Goodman is offering socially distanced in-store appointments, as well as same-day delivery to Manhattan and the Hamptons for online orders.
These offerings are an extension of a trend that predates the virus, an invisible velvet rope rising between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else on aeroplanes, on cruise ships, even in the health care system. They allow wealthy customers to skip to the front of lines and avoid crowds, hassle and wasted time.
Incentive for the well-heeled
But in a Covid-19 world, crowds and lines are more than just inconveniences — they are threats to health and, in some cases, to survival. Thus, the pandemic has given wealthy customers an even stronger incentive to take advantage of luxury services that physically separate them from the masses.
“The idea that we’re all in this pandemic together is in some ways right,” said Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University. “But it quickly gets undermined when it becomes clear that millions feel trapped and a select few have their own private yacht or luxury jet as an escape hatch.”
Demand for MySpa2Go’s services quadrupled after the pandemic hit, and the company has a wait-list of 10 to 15 people on any given day, its owner, Lori Traub, said.
“People have been calling and begging for services, telling us that they would pay any amount of money to have services done,” she said. “They were literally saying: ‘Charge me double. Charge me triple. I’ll pay anything to get service.’ “
Traub said the company had not raised prices significantly during the pandemic. MySpa2Go requires all staff members to wear protective gear, including masks and gloves, while performing services and to use disposable tools as much as possible.
Blade, a private helicopter and jet company, has seen an uptick in customers for its flights, like one that goes from New York to the Hamptons for $795. Elite Adventure Tours, based in Los Angeles, is getting more requests for yacht rentals for socially distanced summertime excursions, costing $15,000 a day.
Socially distanced retreat
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, set on 2,000 acres in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, is offering a socially distanced retreat experience. For as much as $900 a night, guests get a butler who plans private leisure activities, including watching movies solo at the resort’s theatre or enjoying private use of its tennis courts, museums or shops.
High-end businesses are also selling one of the most sought-after commodities in the pandemic era: child care.
Beverly Hills, California, agency Westside Nannies has received an overwhelming number of requests for people with experience as summer camp counsellors to watch children, the better to plan one-on-one camplike activities, said Katie Provinziano, the agency’s managing director.
“Parents are really feeling like they want their kids to have some sense of normality and a little bit of that traditional summer experience within the confines of the pandemic,” she said.
Victoria O’Flahavan of West Hollywood, California, hired a nanny through the agency to look after her 3-year-old son while she tends to her newborn daughter. The nanny, who charges $28 an hour, orchestrates summertime activities like planting tomatoes in the garden and setting up a lemonade stand.
“I like that he has something to look forward to, because it’s been so long since he had interaction with other kids, which just breaks my heart,” O’Flahavan said.
Surge in demand for nannies
Westside Nannies said it had also seen a 300 per cent increase in requests from parents wanting to hire full-time in-home “private educators,” who typically charge about $50 an hour.
Parents are also finding ways for their children to continue pursuing athletic ambitions. In Hopkins, Minnesota, 43 Hoops Basketball Academy offers private training for $75 to $90 an hour. Koa Sports, in Bethesda, Maryland, provides socially distant summer camp experiences to small groups of children, as long as one participating family volunteers its backyard for the fun. Elite Method, in Englewood, New Jersey, provides “concierge-style” one-on-one sports coaching and mentoring to children in their own backyard for $250 for a 90-minute session.
“The people that can afford this, the people that can pay private educators $50 an hour to come in and teach their kids, or hire a camp counsellor to create summer camp for their children, are really the upper echelon of society,” Provinziano said.
Rich-poor divide widens
She worries it will further exacerbate the divide between rich and poor. Children who have no choice but to go back to school, or to continue with Zoom classes, are at risk of falling ill, falling behind or both. Some teachers, fearful of returning to classrooms before the pandemic is over, may elect to become private educators for wealthy families instead, draining the school system of much-needed skilled teachers, Provinziano said.
Children who found a love for basketball or football on school teams or during neighbourhood pickup games will have to put their passion for the game on hold until the pandemic recedes. When college athletic scouts resume their recruiting, the teenagers who were able to benefit from private coaching during the pandemic may have an advantage.
“You do have a lot of choices that are open to you if you have the money to afford them,” Provinziano said. “And most people don’t.”