A women’s health micro-neighborhood springs up on Fifth Avenue

On an unassuming corner near Union Square in downtown Manhattan, a slow creep of new businesses have cropped up over the last few months, occupying storefronts that previously housed retailers more typical of lower Fifth Avenue—a now-vacated Eddie Bauer outpost, Bobby Flay’s legendary restaurant Mesa Grill, which shuttered in 2013, and British lingerie store Rigby & Peller. The newcomers—Modern Age, Kindbody, and VSpot, which inked its lease just last week—have clustered, one next to another, near 15th Street. And they share something in common: all these businesses are women-founded and provide women’s health and wellness services.

That they’re all light-flooded, bright windowed spaces, street-level, with frontage and marquee branding right in the midst of one of New York’s most trafficked shopping districts is perhaps a sign there’s been a seismic shift in the public discourse around women’s healthcare.

“This city block is single-handedly revolutionizing the way women prioritize and take care of their bodies—with accessibility and convenience at the helm,” says Cindy Barshop, former cast member of the Real Housewives of New York City and founder and CEO of VSpot, which will open its second Manhattan location and first street-level storefront at 104 Fifth Ave. later this year.

“Most of our Upper East Side clients have come through based on word-of-mouth—and, more recently, through TikTok,” she says. “Now, being in a hyper-central location, next door to other leaders in health, without a doubt, we’ll see a cross-pollination of women going door-to-door. This modern-day medical block makes it more convenient and accessible than ever.”

Barshop founded VSpot in 2017 after giving birth to twins. Today, the spa-like clinic specializes in technology-driven non-surgical sexual health and wellness treatments—such as laser vaginal rejuvenation, Emsella for urinary incontinence, and intimate lightening. Its new neighbor, Kindbody, at 102 Fifth Ave., is led by founder and chairwoman Gina Bartasi, and provides transparently-priced, easy-to-understand access to services including egg freezing and in vitro fertilization (IVF). On the corner, at 100 Fifth Ave., is Modern Age, a wellness destination founded by former Glossier COO Melissa Eamer that offers services such as IV drip therapies, PRP injections for hair loss, dermal fillers, and Botox.

It’s a remarkable societal shift when, considering just five or ten years ago, finding recommendations for a trustworthy gynecologist, sexual health specialist, or cosmetic dermatologist in the city could feel akin to a covert, multi-spreadsheet triangulation of ZocDoc, Yelp, and an epic game of she-said friend-of-a-friend telephone.

“Over the past few years, social media has helped people understand that you’re not alone in whatever you’re experiencing—especially when it comes to women’s health—and that it’s OK to talk about it,” says VSpot Director of Operations Lucy McNamara. “There’s a reason our first location five years ago is in a third-floor walk-up on the Upper East Side. But I think it’s come full circle. There’s a normalcy around it now, which has allowed us to be on Fifth Avenue as a storefront.”

This new health services hub sits squarely on the southern end of the Flatiron neighborhood, which has, over the past decade, become a magnet for fitness studios—such as SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, and SLT—as well as athleisure retailers, including Lululemon, Bandier, and Alo Yoga. In 2019, The Well opened its flagship on the southeast corner of 15th and Fifth. The integrated health destination—which comprises medical and health coaching services, a spa, shop, restaurant, and yoga/meditation/Pilates studios—has since established itself as the neighborhood OG: a thematic anchor and a community gathering space.

“I feel like in New York City, you’re either central or you’re everywhere,” says Rebecca Parekh, CEO of The Well, of leasing three stories of office and retail space on 15th Street. Parekh, along with her co-founders Sarrah Hallock and Kane Sarhan, had considered the Upper East Side and Tribeca, as well, and ultimately chose Union Square for its broader demographic and easy access to transportation. Bringing health care, spa services, fitness, and food into a one-and-done destination was a no-brainer, she says.

“I came to The Well as a consumer, first and foremost, looking for something like this in my own life,” Parekh says. “Why didn’t something like this exist? I was running around New York City, going to a bunch of different places.

“I think there are a lot of women who have been navigating their health journeys as 20-somethings and 30-somethings in New York and they’re, like: there has to be a better way,” she says. “Tackling some of these business models in a hospitality setting, in a physical setting—we’re trying to innovate, to show that there’s a different way to deliver care that meets people where they are, and addresses a need, and then using that model to catalyze change more broadly.”

To that end, the cluster of newer clinics across the street, each offering a diverse and complementary set of services, helps further entice care-seekers to the area—and keeps clients in close proximity for longer stretches of time.

“To get a customer back in, we have to make their life a little bit easier,” McNamara says of the post-pandemic return to brick-and-mortar. She points out that recent clients have expressed they feel safer in a clinical environment. “It adds a level of trust for a lot of people that this has become a medically-led neighborhood. During the pandemic, we had clients come in and they just wanted to hang out with us. They told us they felt safe in a medical environment.”

At The Well, where guests and clients have been known to linger for entire days, drifting between the restaurant, classes, spa services, and coaching sessions, Parekh says there’s a sense of psychological safety imbued throughout the space through purposeful design.

“The moment you walk in the door, you feel better—it’s an oasis,” she says. “The curves, the scent in the air, the natural materials, all the plants, the stone—all of that is intentional. It was so important to create a space that just felt amazing, because we are all running around like crazy and juggling a lot. When you walk in, it’s best-in-class everything, right? Because it’s New York. If it’s not great, you’re going to go to the place around the corner.”

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