In a world where the average American spends around $200 per year on tanning, it’s hard to imagine a city as cosmopolitan as Philadelphia.
The city is also home to a variety of popular, upscale shops that cater to both the “slim” and “skinny” crowd.
The island sun salon on the north side of the city has been around since 2012, but it’s the only one in the US to specialize in sun tanners and has expanded over the years.
“People just want to go for a great tan,” said one of the island’s owners, Lisa Kowalski.
“I don’t think they care about what their body looks like.”
Kowalksi, who has been tanning professionally for over 20 years, said she thinks the island has one of America’s highest levels of self-esteem among people of color.
“Most people, when they think of a tan, they think they’re pretty and pretty and good looking,” she said.
“But if you look at the pictures of our clients and the pictures on their Facebook profiles, they’re very skinny, and they’re not happy with their bodies.”
Kewalski said the island offered a unique experience that didn’t exist in other parts of the country.
“We’re here, and we’re making people feel good about their bodies,” she told me.
The sun salon is located on the south side of Philly, between the U.S. Bank Stadium and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The salon is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and it’s open every day from 7 a.b. to 5 p.p.m.; some hours may be extended depending on demand.
The beach at the beach salon is just off the main strip of the Philadelphia waterfront, but its location is an important part of the appeal of the salon.
“It’s the perfect spot for beach walks, because it’s so easy to get there,” said Kowalsh, who also owns a tanning parlor in Seattle.
She said the beach was the first place she ever took a photo with her client, who was a member of the U2 family.
The other clients at the salon were also from the U-2 family, so the beach also had an element of history to it.
“The U-two family are famous for being very patriotic,” she explained.
“So they come and hang out in the sand on their beach and it is an ideal place to take a photo.”
Kawalski has been open since the early 2000s, but her salon has expanded into other locations, including on the West Side of Philadelphia.
“My goal is to have a place that’s more of a beach-side place,” she says.
Kowaloski, who is black, said there was a time when she didn’t know what the term “sultry black woman” meant, but she’s now embracing the term as a compliment.
“If I’m going to have to wear a bikini and a tuxedo and go out to a beach, I’m gonna wear a t-shirt,” she continued.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t even know what that was.
Now, I feel like I’m so different.”
Kwanza Hall, an African-American and artist, has been a regular at the sun salon since 2012.
She has been there for years, and has even started her own brand.
“Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but you have to go and do your thing and have fun,” she added.
“And we’ve definitely got some fun with the clients.”
The sun salons, which are usually located in a strip mall on the edge of town, offer a different experience for the less fortunate.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t have the money or the luxury to go out and get a tan,” Kowalyksi said.
Kwanasz Hall said she used to work at the other beach salon, but that it wasn’t her style.
“Nowadays, I don’t go out at all,” she admitted.
“Even if I go out, I tend to come home and go to sleep.”
KWLN 7’s Jessica DeLuca is a freelance writer based in New York.
You can follow her on Twitter @jessicadelflacova.
Follow The Verge on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.