Salt of the earth: Solay shines light on wellness
Isabella Samovsky, owner of Skokie's Solay Wellness, is seen here in a room used for "salt yoga." The store promotes a holistic lifestyle selling products and services centered around Himalayan salt. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
For Sale: Salt lamps ($30 to $150), skin care products, salt yoga ($12 for a class), salt room ($15 for an hour).
Where: 4819-4821 W. Main St., Skokie
SO WELL (opening Feb. 1)
Where: 1613 Sherman, Evanston
Updated: February 25, 2013 6:14AM
Main Street in Skokie may not seem like the obvious choice for a business dedicated to the intimate, the holistic, the advancement of alternative healthful living.
That’s just what makes Solay Wellness so special; there is nothing quite like it no matter where it sets down. For those who have visited this small store just west of Skokie Boulevard, just east of the railroad tracks, they come away believing it’s worth its weight in — well, if not gold, then salt.
Isabella Samovsky, owner of Solay Wellness, carries with her a real success story. From the very beginning, she has been a passionate believer in holistic, natural living and has never veered away from her mission, even when it was difficult making that mission work financially.
“I knew I wanted to run my own business,” she said, “and I knew it had to be an expression of myself.”
Solay Wellness began selling lamps made of crystal salt, which is still the store’s key merchandise. Walk into the front room and these unique lamps line the shelves, giving off a soothing and inviting light. The place literally gives off a peaceful and tranquil glow.
Himalayan salt was created more than 250 million years ago when pockets of ocean water dried up in what’s now the Himalayan Mountains. The salt crystal is hand-excavated into various sizes and shapes, and drilled inside to accommodate a light source.
There are different reasons the lamps are popular, Samovsky says. Customers purchase them as “beautiful light sources,” but there are also health and environmental benefits as well.
Unlike more traditional lamps, salt lamps are hygroscopic, attracting moisture through humidity in the form of airborne water molecules.
“When lit by a small, energy-efficient light bulb of 15 watts or less, crystal salt emits an electrical charge, enriching our environment,” Solay Wellness promises. The salt “purifies the air of allergens, dust, smoke, bacteria and more.”
“It’s no secret that our modern lifestyles have produced environments that are stuffy and polluted, creating unhealthy air around us that has caused enormous damage to our health and well-being,” according to store information prominently placed in the front room. It goes on to explain the health benefits of “negative ions” that are generated by the crystal salt lamps.
Samovsky immigrated with her family from Russia to Chicago at age 4 and grew up in East Rogers Park. As she got older, she didn’t know what she wanted to do, she said, but she grew to love hemp, which she learned about through High Times Magazine.
After and even during college, she held various jobs, all selling natural lifestyle items in one form or another. She wanted to work for herself, and she tried a few ventures that ultimately did not work out. Eco Team Chicago, for example, was an environmentally-friendly business directory, of the likes not seen in this area. It simply didn’t make enough money to become viable, though, she said.
Samovsky first learned of Himalayan salt lamps when she was working sales and marketing for Bean Products Inc. on the South Side of Chicago. She read up on the benefits of Himalayan salt and started meditating with the lamps. When she began selling the lamps on her own, she had only $300 to her name.
Still, Samovsky created an online business and sold the lamps from her basement in Rogers Park. It took her four scary months before she made a profit.
But once people became illuminated about these special lamps, the product took off. Alternative living magazines ran stories, people found the website and the business turned a profit by the end of its first year.
The name was changed to Solay — the phonetic spelling of a word that means fluid light or energy — and the business incorporated in 2005, opening in 2006 in a 1,200 square foot space in an industrial area of Skokie.
It remained mostly web-based although people managed to find their way to what essentially was a “showroom” to look at and buy products. After five years, Samovsky moved to Solay’s present space on Main Street.
The salt lamps are only one part of the business now. On the east half of the store is a lovely, serene room used for “salt yoga,” one of the few yoga spaces in the area and certainly the only one offering salt yoga.
There, yoga is performed on Himalayan salt tiles, and the room is lit by natural light and salt lamps. Samovsky admits this yoga isn’t for those who are hardcore; it’s a gentler, kinder yoga where participants move at their own pace under the guidance of an instructor.
Adjacent to the yoga room is a “salt room,” an enclosed intimate space with chairs and a bed, blocks of salt on the wall, an overhead salt lamp, a small salt walking pit. It’s a place to relax and heal.
Salt skin care products, inhalers and other items have joined the salt lamps for sale in Solay’s front room.
Samovsky’s greater mission now is to work with other entrepreneurs who believe in the benefits of Himalayan salt.
In February, she will open So Well, a new flagship store in Evanston, which will sell the Solay Wellness line in a smaller space. It’s intended to be the first of many So Well stores, a franchise venture by Samovsky that she hopes will bring salt lamps to many other places in the country and even the world.
“This was never about money to me,” she said. “That wasn’t what drove me.”
Yet, it was important to be profitable if only so this entrepreneur and healer could continue her journey and reach her goals. She wants as many people as possible now to see the light.