Rhonnetta Moore says her 4-year-old daughter Zaira's favorite new hangout is a great reward for good behavior.
"When she's not here she is begging to come and she asks, 'Mommy, if I clean my room can I go?' " Moore said recently.
It was the duo's third visit to the Cutie Patootie Spa Experience since it opened in November.
Inside the Temple Terrace spa on 56th Street, little girls from tots to tweens relaxed on lounge chairs, eyes closed as licensed workers massaged antioxidants into their smooth skin. Others soaked their toes in pools of water, preparing for their latest pedicure, or held out their hands for nail technicians to apply glossy polish.
Their mothers, meanwhile, sat on the sidelines awaiting the bill — $9 for each service or $25 for the manicure, pedicure and facial combo.
The spa walls are painted hot pink and tequila lime, and clients are outfitted in little pink terry robes. When not getting pampered, the girls may twist to music sounding from a big-screen wall-mounted video console featuring Wii dance games. They can sit on child-size furnishings accented with zebra-striped cushions and pillows.
"I think the environment is very playful and the prices are very reasonable," said Moore, who drives to Cutie Patootie from her home in Ruskin.
Owner Marcia Harris said girls usually don't want to leave her spa, and acknowledges that it's proof of change.
"When I was a child my mom didn't even allow me to wear nail polish, unless it was clear," she said. "But times definitely are changing."
Spas catering to young girls started popping up throughout the country a few years ago, Harris said. Local businesses include Sweet & Sassy, a franchise in the Carrollwood area, and Lil Diva Dream Spa, a mobile spa that offers birthday parties and other special events throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Harris, 28, a single mother of one young son, said she struggled financially before taking out a loan to open Cutie Patootie. She got the idea after a short stint doing in-home spa parties for young lassies who wanted the same pampering as their mothers.
The concept seems to be catching on. Shaqavia Smith and her mother, Deborah Hayes, sat on a cream-colored wrap-around leather sofa as they watched Smith's 6-year-old daughter, Kyra, from across the room.
Kyra lay stretched out on a black leather lounger, reveling in a chocolate facial treatment, which was filled with antioxidants and also works well as an exfoliant, Harris said. (Clients may also select honey- or cream cheese-based facials.)
"We'll make sure Kyra comes back to get another facial and all the other stuff," said Hayes, who lives in Tampa and learned about the spa from a flier. "This place is just amazing."
Nearby, Stevondria Hardy, 7, and Candra Belton, 3, sat side by side on cushions in the pedicure corner, their tiny tootsies submerged in a warm pool of water.
They quietly waited their turns as pedicurist Mara Moore filed and transformed the toenails of another girl, 7-year-old Stevaria Hardy, using bright red polish accented with an overlay of pencil-point-thin black diagonal stripes. She topped them off with a splash of mini rhinestones.
"I have to earn and save my money to come here," said Stevaria, who described the experience as "really cool."
Stevaria and the others wouldn't be allowed to get service at some adult spas. At Legend Nails & Spa in Temple Terrace, girls must be at least 10 years old. A spokeswoman at Divine Designs Salon & Spa in Brandon said parents must sign a waiver before their young daughters are served. Such requests, however, are uncommon at both salons.
Trish Bui, owner of nearby Amethia Nail & Spa in Temple Terrace, said nail technicians will provide manicures to young girls accompanied by their mothers or guardians on special request.
Nicole Penon of Tampa, the mother of Nya, 9, and Nadiyah, 3, brought her daughters to Cutie Patootie for the second time in a week.
Their prior visit was to celebrate Nya's birthday, which included a private pampering party for her and eight of her girlfriends, plus Nadiyah.
Carla Griffith recently hosted a birthday party for her daughter, Jacorria Jones, 6, and several of her friends at Cutie Patootie.
"She loves to have pampering sessions at home so I knew she would really like something like this," Griffith said. "Even little girls like to be told how pretty they look."
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]