Stay Awake and Bake: Chain Bets on 24-Hour Tanning

With a 24-hour A.T.M., a 24-hour Hot & Crusty, and a 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts all operating along the same Upper East Side block, it seems only fitting that Beach Bum Tanning, located at 1276-A Lexington Avenue, is also open around the clock.

But at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, the night owls in that neighborhood appeared to be more interested in baked goods than baked skin.

“I’ve got one person in a booth right now,” said José, the lone staffer working the salon’s graveyard shift.

With that single booth in use, 10 others sat dark.

Busy night? “Not really,” said José.

If staffing the place and running the overhead lights continuously through the quiet night for the benefit of the odd patron or two, week after week, sounds like a waste of money and electricity, then perhaps Beach Bum Tanning vice president James Oliver can provide some illumination.

“We wouldn’t be doing more [salons] if this wasn’t a profitable venture for us,” Mr. Oliver recently told Counter Espionage.

That’s right—more salons, open all night long.

In February, the Astoria, Queens–based Beach Bum plans to open two brand-spankin’-new round-the-clock tanning spots in Manhattan: a 3,500-square-foot, 22-booth pseudo-sun-and-spray center at 25 West 14th Street, and a smaller, 2,500-square-foot, 18-booth, second-floor space above Tasti D-Lite at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street.

The unveiling of these new awake-and-bake venues has been timed to coincide with the dawning of prime pigment-enhancement season, which generally runs from Valentine’s Day through Labor Day.

The nonstop service is a major selling point for the salon chain.

“As our season approaches in February, you’re gonna see a lot of advertising from us, letting people know about our 24-hour service,” Mr. Oliver said. “We’re definitely gonna play it up.”

The Beach Bum brand has become somewhat synonymous with 24-hour tanning, at least in Queens, where the company first debuted its all-hours policy at a Forest Hills salon nearly 10 years ago. “It was so popular,” according to Mr. Oliver, “we do it now in Howard Beach, Bayside, Astoria, East Meadow and Stony Brook.”

Yet for years, the outer-borough-biased company disenfranchised an entire market of underserved Manhattanites desperate for the same middle-of-the-night ultraviolet treatment—however few that might be.

Only last April did Beach Bum duly extend service into the wee hours at its Upper East Side digs. Patrons of the two other Beach Bum locations west of Central Park still must struggle to find adequate tanning time between the ungodly hours of 8 a.m. and midnight.

Mr. Oliver explained the company’s tan-anytime philosophy as an effort to meet consumer demand.

“A lot of our clientele is in the service industry,” he said, citing restaurant and strip-club personnel in particular. “They have very off hours.

“We were finding that we were getting a lot of people starting to come in at 12 or 1 o’clock when we were closing at 12,” he continued. “A lot of people wanted us to stay open an extra hour, an extra two. And we had a lot of people asking us to open earlier than 8 o’clock.”

Epidermal needs of strippers and servers aside, it’s also a pretty good gimmick.

“If you’re a customer and you tell your friend, ‘My tanning salon is open 24 hours,’ it becomes a conversation,” Mr. Oliver said. “It’s like, ‘Whoa! A tanning salon open 24 hours?’”

It further provides customers with peace of mind, he added. “If a person uses it or not, it’s no big deal,” he said. “But if I go someplace and know it’s 24 hours, then I know I don’t ever have to call and say, ‘Hey, you open?’ I can go anytime I wanna go and I don’t even have to think about it.”

Beach Bum isn’t Manhattan’s first UV peddler to gamble on the convenience or the word-of-mouth wow factor that all-night service provides.

Four years ago, rival rays-and-sprays chain Hollywood Tans also advertised 24-hour service at its 388 Sixth Avenue location in the West Village. But it wasn’t long before that salon ceased after-midnight operations altogether; the 30-booth venue now closes promptly at midnight.

Two employees working the reception desk there around 9:30 p.m. on Monday told Counter Espionage that they’re lobbying for the salon to shut its doors even earlier, given the lack of late-night foot traffic.

Quitters! Mr. Oliver sees that dead time as an opportunity.

“Those hours from 2 to 4, or 2 to 6, that we don’t see anybody—so what? The guy can clean,” he said. “If there’s any painting that needs to be done, any touchups, or steam-clean the carpet—we do that at night. We find it’s really, really worked out well for us.”