This story is part of a series we are presenting about how local Santa Cruz businesses faced challenges of the last couple years with strength and perseverance. From the COVID pandemic shutdown which began in March 2020, to the CZU fires of August 2020, to the continuing pandemic rollercoaster in 2021, our community members have proven their resiliency.
Yoso Wellness Spa’s story began in 2012, when owner Jennalee Dahlen opened Santa Cruz Skin Solutions at a 500 square feet space on River Street near Highway One. At the time, she was the only esthetician at her business. Over the years, she changed the name, grew to a team of 12, and in 2018 expanded to a 2,000 square feet location on Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz. Yoso offers a range of services such as facials, massage, waxing, acupuncture, cupping, cosmetic acupuncture, lashes, and advanced skin treatments. In 2020, Dahlen opened retail store Yoso the Annex on Cooper Street.
Yoso offers a holistic and high vibrational approach within its services. “My approach to skin and body wellness has always been to look beyond what we can see on the surface and what your skin is presenting,” says Dahlen. “There are a wide range of internal and external factors that impact our body, mind and skin health, and we are here to help support healing in all the ways we are able.”
Yoso means Raw Elements in Japanese. “I chose a Japanese word for the spa to pull in a piece of my Japanese heritage as it is a huge part of my family and life,” shares Dahlen. “My great grandfather Frank Matsuyama moved to America from Japan and eventually married a German woman and raised their family on a 23-acre farm in downtown Sonoma. During the war, five of his children were placed in internment camps.” At that time, he was training law enforcement members and the military on jujutsu and how to use the yawara stick, a device he created. Due to his government work, he was able to help get his children out of the camps and back home safely. Dahlen proudly displays a work of art by Matsuyama in the spa. It depicts Drama-San, a Buddhist priest that represents willpower.
Home and Business Challenges
“The challenges of 2020 definitely made an impact,” says Dahlen. “Some were hard, and others were beautiful like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.” At the end of 2019, her marriage unexpectedly ended, and she became a single mom to her young daughters. Just a few months later, the spa doors closed due to COVID. “I was suddenly juggling three kids doing at-home distance learning,” says Dahlen. “I knew I wasn’t qualified to be teaching them. We had a good cry and hugs as we embraced our new reality and practiced being gentle with ourselves,” she says. “All of this while processing that Yoso was not able to be open to support our community through our healing touch and knowledge,” she adds. “I had to lay off my team; my heart hurt from not having work for them.”
Dahlen also didn’t have a way to generate an income for her family. “It felt scary and exhausting because I had no clue what to expect. And from there I got to emerge.” While she is not grateful for 2020, she is grateful for its challenges. “It created space for me to go within, do deep inner work and healing, accept what I could not control and welcome each moment as it came. I experienced a personal and professional evolution with a mission to thrive, not just survive.”
Dahlen discovered a lot from living in a pandemic and within the same year, being evacuated from her home for 11 days due to the CZU fires. “I learned that during that time, and even still, the only thing known was the unknown, the only thing constant was change and that releasing control provides freedom in the chaos. I learned to embrace the change as it came, let spontaneity in while releasing control, and see opportunity in each moment. I learned that our community cherishes Yoso and just as we would do anything to stand by our community’s side, our community stood by ours. We lift one another up and we are better together.”
To help Yoso survive the pandemic, some retail vendors provided Dahlen things like free shipping. The booking software company they utilize gave a discounted monthly rate for committing to a contract. Those details, no matter how big or small, made a difference. “Every one of these gestures was seen and appreciated,” she says. “During the shutdown, Dahlen took out loans and applied for financial support for Yoso for the first time. “We received the Resilience Microloan through the Santa Cruz Economic Development Department, two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program (this loan was offered through the Small Business Administration), and the EIDL loan. The latter is a federal COVID-19 loan that supports small businesses. Also, after applying for many grants they were awarded two small ones.
COVID’s Continued Effects
The biggest challenge Yoso faces today is the continuing impacts of COVID. “For many people, life is going back to normal,” says Dahlen. “However, as a small business we are faced with increased loans in addition to price increases on nearly all products, supplies and materials we use. We are also regularly experiencing cancellations due to clients having a COVID exposure or actually having COVID. They have clients booking services, but also have a large number canceling. “We’re constantly trying to figure out ways to fill appointment slots so our staff can continue making an income and the business can continue pushing through the pandemic.”
Evolving for Wellness Success
During the pandemic, Dahlen evaluated how Yoso could stay connected with the community and provide wellness while not being allowed to connect with their actual hands. “From that we evolved in two special ways,” she says. “Our treatment room doors were closed, so our natural progression was to open a wellness and lifestyle retail store to further support our community in self-care and sustainability. They recently celebrated Yoso the Annex’s one-year anniversary. Also, they created Essential Worker care packages that community members could buy to thank frontline workers, with different tiers depending how much someone wanted to spend. Products in the packages included hand cream, moisturizing facial sheet masques, candles, and more. Dahlen hand-delivered these to healthcare providers, public safety officers, and grocery store clerks. The program lasted a few months.
Finding Strength and Positivity
“I found positivity through my experiences with my three little girls including outside activities such as foraging in the forest, special moments that we may not have made time for, if not for the pandemic,” says Dahlen.
In December 2020, when the spa had to close its doors again, Dahlen says she truly cried while feeling a profound helplessness. “I was at the point where I finally had to publicly ask for help in a video on social media. Wow, the way the community stepped in to purchase gift cards to help us make it through the holiday season was unlike anything I could have ever anticipated. I will FOREVER be grateful for everyone who either purchased a gift card or—if they weren’t able to financially—held space in their hearts for us, sent loving words of support or shared our message. It all helped Yoso be here today.”
Dahlen credits her incredible team at Yoso and the phenomenal local community for giving her positivity and strength. “I am filled with an abundant joy from the community’s arms opened through 2020 and into 2021—feeling the heart and belief in Yoso. I am so honored and look forward to all the years to come.”