Business Notepad

Scents and sensibilities

As soon as you walk into Sensibilities, the natural-body-care boutique and day spa located in downtown Asheville, your senses are immediately engaged — but in a way that’s aimed to relax. There’s the store’s gentle palette of warm earth tones, illuminated with subdued lighting; the soft music playing in the background (and the accompanying, gentle tinkling of fountains); and then, of course, there’s the smell — scented candles and soaps galore fill this establishment, along with skin-care products, essential oils, 100-percent-cotton bathrobes, CDs of serene sounds, and books on feng shui, aromatherapy and natural healing. While Sensibilities also offers a wide array of in-house services (such as massage, facials and body wraps), the owners wanted to extend the spa experience by offering their customers products that they can take home.

“We [also] want people who work in the area to be able to just come and sit for 10 minutes, to get away from it all, ” explains Jennie Charlton — who, with partner Cathy Oaks, launched the business last fall. The two met four years ago while attending massage-therapy school in Florida. Charlton knew Asheville from visits with her great-aunt Sophie, who has lived in the area for years. Together, Charlton and Oaks decided that downtown Asheville was the perfect place for the business they’d been talking about starting. Oaks’ sister Sue Epperly, who was living in Wilmington, was persuaded to join them; she and Holly Clark round out the massage team. All four are nationally certified.

To celebrate Sensibilities’ first anniversary, Charlton and Oaks are selling raffle tickets ($5 apiece) to raise money for two local nonprofits — OurVoice Inc. (formerly the Rape Crisis Center) and The Multiple Sclerosis Society. The drawing will take place at the spa on Saturday, Oct. 14. The lucky winners will get to partake of some of Sensibilities’ in-house services, such as European facials, Moor mud wraps and one-hour massages.

“Asheville has been so supportive of us,” exclaims Charlton. “We are grateful that people have been willing to come in and give us a try.”

Sensibilities is located at 60 Biltmore Ave. For more information, call 253-3222.

Red wigglers and the MLS Guide

Appalachian Realty has received an Environmental Excellence Award from Quality Forward, a local environmental non-profit, for their work composting their Multiple Listing Service guides. In the past, the phone-book-sized reference guide — distributed twice a month to hundreds of local realtors — has been almost impossible to recycle, due to the low-grade paper used and the glue with which it’s bound.

But with the help of their gardener, Annie Jacobs, Appalachian Realty discovered that the MLS guides could be composted using red wiggler worms, a process called vermicomposting. After being shredded, the guides are fed to the worms in a bin behind Appalachian Realty’s office on Arlington Street. The resulting compost goes into their garden, where it helps produce beautiful flowers.

“Our compost is now about 80 percent MSL books,” says Jacobs, who uses this same method to compost all her paper products at home. “It’s proof that, if we take a look around us, we can do better than just recycle. We can completely take a lot of things out of the waste stream.”

The city of Asheville recently began accepting a limited amount of MLS guides into its mixed-paper recycling program. But as Kelly Grundman of Quality Forward notes: “When it wasn’t convenient, Appalachian Realty did the right thing. Now that it’s convenient, no one has an excuse not to.”

Appalachian Realty, 23 Arlington St., can be reached at 255-7530. To contact Quality Forward, call 254-1776.

Segrof Video moves to Charlotte Street

Ever since Segrof Video opened two years ago on Merrimon Avenue, it’s been the place to go to find alternative and out-of-the-ordinary movies. Foreign films from 29 countries (including a large collection of British films), plus documentaries and independent and classic films (going all the way back to the silent era) have made Segrof’s 4,000 titles “a movie lover’s dream,” according to owner/managers Catherine Brown and Mara Roth.

“If someone is looking for a hard-to-find movie, an artistic movie, a classic movie,” says Roth, “they know they can come here and find it. We want to make people more aware of the independent movies that get lost in the shuffle — not just the big movies, the blockbusters.”

And with their recent acquisition of (and move to) VideoLife on Charlotte Street, Segrof’s inventory has more than doubled, to 10,000 titles. They’ve inherited VideoLife’s own healthy selection of alternative movies, as well as a sizable collection of mainstream films (which they will continue to maintain and update, to serve VideoLife’s former customer base).

Other Segrof specialties include children’s movies, martial-arts and animated Japanese pictures, as well as cult and alternative-lifestyle films. The store has special sections devoted to directors such as the Coen brothers, Lynch, Scorsese, Polanski and others, and they plan to establish special categories such as Sundance and Cannes Film Festival winners, Academy Award winners, films shot in WNC, and a James Bond collection. Segrof also carries a growing number of DVDs and books on tape.

Like many entrepreneurs, Brown and Roth are passionate about their work. These self-confessed movie buffs watch most of the films they carry — and both are more than happy to share their opinions on any particular picture, if you need help deciding.

Roth was actually Brown’s very first customer when Segrof Video opened; she literally couldn’t wait until the doors opened. Every time she came in, the two would talk about movies; their friendship grew and, eventually, Brown offered Roth a job. They’ve been working together ever since and are now partners.

Brown, who grew up in Paris, has loved movies as long as she can remember. “I was always sneaking out” to see them, she recalls. And Roth, a native New Yorker, remembers watching a lot of movies during junior high. But it was a film course in high school that turned her on to different kinds of movies. “After that, I was hooked.”

Brown is evasive when it comes to revealing the origin of the business’s name. And while Roth has discovered the secret, she’s not talking either. They will only say (somewhat cryptically) that while the word “segrof” comes from Russia, it has no direct translation into English.

Segrof Video opened for business at its new location on Oct. 1 and, to both Segrof Video and former VideoLife customers, Brown and Roth say: “Thanks for being so patient during this transition. We look forward to people coming in and enjoying [these movies] like we do.”

Segrof Video, now located at 197 Charlotte St., can be reached at 250-9500. Their hours are Monday through Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

The salt of life

With salt, as with flour and sugar, there’s a big difference between whole, unrefined varieties and processed, ‘white’ ones: namely, nutritional value. A properly harvested, true sea salt — as opposed to one that comes from a mine or a dry inland lake or sea — contains more than 80 vital minerals, in ratios that closely resemble those found in human blood and body fluids (not surprising, if you consider that human beings evolved from the ocean). By way of comparison, a regular, processed table salt not only has all these minerals removed (using chemicals such as sulfuric acid, chlorine and hydrochloric acid), but its very molecular structure has been altered by high temperatures.

For these reasons, many people feel that a properly harvested, unpolluted sea salt can help restore and maintain optimum health. Two such believers are Selina and Philippe Delangre, who own and manage Asheville’s The Grain & Salt Society, an international distributor of Celtic Sea Salt. In fact, they have a file full of testimonials from customers who swear by this salt’s ability to restore good health.

Celtic Sea Salt is harvested from clay-lined salt beds in Brittany, on the northwestern coast of France, using 2,000-year-old techniques. To reach these beds, ocean water must first travel through natural, preserved marshlands. Wind and sun evaporate the water in the beds, leaving a mineral-rich brine that’s briskly stimulated by trained, professional salt “farmers.” The salt crystals that form are gathered by hand, using wooden tools that won’t react with the salt’s delicate ionic balance, as metal would. The salt’s purity, cleanliness and harvest method are authenticated by a group of professional inspectors commissioned by Nature Et Progres, a well-known European consumer-protection organization.

The Grain & Salt Society was started nearly 30 years ago in California by Philippe Delangre’s father, Jacques de Langre, a health pioneer and the author of Sea Salt’s Hidden Powers. In fact, it was only after many of his readers wrote inquiring where they could get a good quality sea salt that he realized the need for an American distributor.

Seven years ago, Jacques de Langre passed away, and Philippe took over management of the business — temporarily, he thought. He had been living in Florida with his wife, Selina, and their three children, working as a boat carpenter and antique-boat restorer after years as a commercial fisherman. But both he and Selina discovered an unsuspected passion for carrying on the legacy that Jacques had left behind.

After living in California for two years, says Philippe, “We knew we wanted to get out. … We didn’t want to raise our kids there.” In searching for a place that would serve their needs, they remembered Asheville, a place they’d passed through on their way to California and liked. The family decided to make this their new home, bringing The Grain & Salt Society with them.

The Delangres share the Breton farmers’ deep commitment to the purity of Celtic Sea Salt. Consider the response to an oil spill last December, 40 miles off the coast of Brittany. Local governments, fire departments, military personnel and civilian volunteers moved swiftly to clean up the spill, which didn’t appear to have contaminated either the bay or the waterways leading to the salt flats. Nevertheless, the salt farmers collectively decided to shut down production for a year and prevent any sea water from entering the marshes, in order to safeguard the purity of their product. Before dismantling the dirt barricades they’d hastily erected on first learning of the spill, they added filter barricades made of natural, locally occurring materials such as lava rock, duck feathers, oyster shells and balsa wood.

Because it was hard in the states to get details about the spill, Philippe went to France to check things out for himself. And in retrospect, he even sees some good in this calamity: “It really raised consciousness about the importance of preserving the area.”

And because the Celtic Sea Salt available for distribution comes from past seasons’ harvests, he foresees no problems with shortages.

In 1994, the Delangres launched a quarterly newsletter, A Grain of Salt, both to tell their customers about the health benefits of Celtic Sea Salt and to report on a wide range of nutritious, traditional foods such as fermented vegetables, quinoa and other alternative grains, and healthy oils. They investigated different products and reported their findings. When readers started asking where they could find these items, the Delangres realized it was time to expand their stock in trade. Today, their catalog offers a variety foods, condiments, kitchen utensils, natural beauty products, health books and more.

For more information about The Grain and Salt Society, call 299-9005, or check their Web site (

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