Without warning, it seemed, the signs of aging began appearing and with them a decrease in youthful stamina.
Dr. Kevin Hirsch and his wife, Linda, saw the evidence - in each other and the friends around them. That's when, they say, the nucleus of an idea began to form, coalescing eight years later as AnuYou Personal and Preventive Aesthetics Institute.
Purposefully ensconced in a new medical office building neighboring Bayfront Medical Center and All Children's Hospital, the establishment is a meld of age management and cosmetic techniques, weight loss therapies, massages, body wraps, manicures and pedicures.
Though most people might think of the operation as a spa, that's not the way Kevin Hirsch, a trauma surgeon at Bayfront, and his wife, a former pharmaceutical representative, view their plush center. For the couple and their staff, AnuYou is exactly what it's called, an institute that educates those who enter its doors.
While the Hirsches are loath to categorize their establishment as a spa, it appears to be similar to what the International Spa Association categorizes as a medical spa. According to the 3,200-member organization, medical spas provide "comprehensive medical and wellness care in an environment that integrates spa services, as well as traditional, complementary and/or alternative therapies and treatments.''
Medical spas make up the fastest growing segment in the industry, Shelby Jones, the association's spokeswoman, said. Additionally, 47 percent of all spa owners report that profits are higher than last year, according to the organization. People are "seeking out a place to destress and relax in these uncertain times,'' it reports.
Dr. Michael S. Gutter, family financial management state specialist at the University of Florida Extension, doesn't quite agree with the optimistic prognosis.
"Some people will still undoubtedly still do this as a form of stress management, but whether new users would utilize a service, I would doubt they would see much growth in their clientele,'' he said.
Still, places like the Don CeSar Beach Resort are counting on people craving the pampering that spas provide. It opened the $11-million Spa Oceana this year with more than 40 types of treatments to buff skin, relax muscles and rejuvenate the mind and body.
"Fortunately for us, we are doing exceptionally well,'' said John Marks, general manager of the landmark St. Pete Beach hotel.
"There's many economic challenges we're all facing in today's environment, and there's no really better way to have a little escape from the realities of these challenges than to spend time close to home visiting a spa. It's a great way to rejuvenate yourself, to focus on the positive.''
The Hirsches' St. Petersburg establishment also has seen no evidence of economic distress.
"People are not going to Europe, but they're going to spend on themselves,'' said Linda Hirsch during a recent interview at AnuYou's 625 Sixth Ave. S location.
Gutter, of the University of Florida, thinks anti-aging and weight management services like those offered by the Hirsch facility will be in demand as baby boomers continue to age.
Kevin Hirsch, who is 48, said he was encouraged by contemporaries to start his new enterprise.
"Friends said this is where you need to be,'' he said. "What I didn't expect was to be so interested in it.''
His facility is unique and shouldn't be called a medical spa, he said.
"The primary focus of AnuYou is not these superficial laser hair removal and vein or cellulite reduction treatments. It is actually nutrition, exercise, (vitamin) supplementation and hormone optimization, thereby promoting the management of age and disease. That's what is the difference.''
The Hirsches, who live on Snell Isle, say they were painstaking in establishing their business, from creating the logo to deciding where it should be. They didn't want a storefront operation, they said.
"We handpicked everything,'' Linda Hirsch, 48, said one afternoon as she sat in her husband's ultramodern office with its off-white leather couch set against a backdrop of textured walls with glass tiles and acid-washed gray floors.
She said they sought out state-of-the-art equipment and tested products the center uses and sells. They also hired highly qualified staffers, who continue to receive training, the couple said. Kevin Hirsch is finishing a course in "cenegenics,'' or age management therapy, at the Cenegenics Medical Institute and has begun a fellowship with American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.
The New Jersey-born doctor has offices at both Bayfront Medical Center and his new business, where clients can enter through the front door or use a side entrance for privacy.
He meets with individual patients to advise them about nutrition and exercise and to prescribe supplements and hormones. He also offers seminars.
The establishment's cosmetic treatments include laser hair removal, chemical peels, facial fillers and enhancements, and medical grade micodermabrasion. Cosmetic procedures can run into thousands of dollars, but Linda Hirsch says AnuYou makes them affordable to people from all walks of life.
"We have treatments that can make a significant difference for a one-time treatment for as little as $85,'' her husband said.