By BETH ALTENA
“Where has 25 years gone?” Chris Ackerman, owner of Sunrays Tanning Salon at 400 E. Division asked. Before the holidays last year Sunrays passed a milestone with the anniversary of the salon’s opening November 2, 1987.
Ackerman, who was 44 at the time, well remembers the anxiety of the first three months, when she wasn’t sure she had made the right decision to leave her job at corporate Wolverine where she had spent the previous decade and a half of her life. “It was extremely difficult. I was beside myself trying to figure out if I would have customers, how I would pay my employees. I cried, I said ‘What did I do?’ “
Ackerman’s passion about always offering a healthful service, education and a clean, cheerful professional presentation has stood her well in the passing of time. She remembers many of her early customers as teens from the high school that was then across the street from her salon.
“Now those kids are grown up and the teenagers who come in are their children,” she noted. Ackerman started out in her current location as the first tenant in the mall and she chose her spot, unit five, because it is visible from Northland Drive. She started with four beds, in four years added two more beds, and now has eight state-of-the-art beds, including one Red Light Therapy bed, which offers a NASA discovered long-length light ray treatment. The therapy uses no UV light and has the ability to more deeply penetrate the skin, offering healing rays that can improve the look of damaged skin as well as treat sources of pain.
Ackerman said the importance of Vitamin D, a benefit that comes from exposure to the sun and UV rays such as in tanning beds, has long been known. Among the importance of the vitamin is the making of calcium and formation of strong bones. She said people are often advised by doctors to take vitamin D supplements, but she has first-hand evidence of the value of receiving the vitamin from a source.
Ackerman explained that she was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago. She fought the cancer, including 33 rounds of chemotherapy, and beat it. As part of her treatment, doctors tested her bone density and found it was 115 percent.
Kids today, more inclined to stay indoors on devices or computers, are becoming more prone to rickets, a disorder associated with lack of Vitamin D, Ackerman described. She said 15 minutes of tanning provides the body with 25,000 IUs of Vitamin D.
Tanning is also helpful in the dead of a gloomy Michigan winter to battle back the blues of Seasonal Affective Disorder and Ackerman said many people tan just for that benefit. It is also good protection prior to a tropical trip to build up a base tan before tender white skin is exposed to the delicious, but dangerous bright rays in tropical locations, she noted.
Ackerman said she has always been passionate about offering the best advice and became certified as soon as she opened her doors. The training, which she said is quite rigorous, taught her which medications can cause sensitivity as well as skin tones and the amount of tanning appropriate. She has maintained certification to keep up with changes in her industry and her staff is likewise knowledgeable.
In her years at Sunrays, Ackerman saw Jody’s open their doors, and McDonald’s to follow suit. She saw the comings and goings of many businesses, from the IGA that used to be in the end spot of her mall, followed by the grocery store Nick’s, Right Aid and now is Dollar General. When she opened her doors there was no MVP, the fitness club which is now Champion Health and Fitness.
For those who are aware how many, many years Polly VonEschen has run the Start of Summer committee, some will also recall she took the Chair over from Ackerman. Ackerman was also on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce, serving as Secretary before Dr. Shibler took over that role.
“After I became an entrepreneur I became active giving talks and making speeches,” said Ackerman. A favorite venue was for the MAMA group, an anagram for Make Available More Alternatives for women. She wanted to encourage other women to spread their wings and exercise their talent in the business world. She said she also gave talks at area churches and clubs telling people about tanning and how to do it smartly.
“From day one I had the goals of being the first and being the best, to educate the community about tanning smart—don’t overexpose, don’t burn—tanning is a natural reaction.” She also said that after her initial misgivings, she very quickly realized that the business was a great fit for her and she had made the right decision. “You can’t be in business and succeed if you aren’t in love with your business.”
Ackerman couldn’t offer enough praise about her staff, how she trusts them completely and can feel comfortable when she has to leave the shop in their hands. She also praised the long love affair between Sunrays and the Rockford community.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people in the community come here to tan—doctors, lawyers, judges. It is amazing the array of clientele that respect Sun Rays enough because we have always, always tried to show our best side and our professional side,” she said. “Rockford has supported me and my business so well over the years, I am so grateful.”
Likewise her customers have nothing but praise for Ackerman as well. Kelly LaValley, in for a quick session, said she first started coming to Sunrays because it is a local business and she makes a point of choosing local first when she can. She appreciates tanning because it makes her feel good and likes a little color to her skin. She soon grew to appreciate Ackerman and her staff’s friendly service.
“Chris is always so accommodating and personal. Today is a good example, I didn’t know what time I was going to get off work so I don’t have an appointment,” LaValley said. “I like the service, that’s why I started. I like Chris, too, that’s why I stay.”
If you see Chris—and if you stop in at Sunrays you almost certainly will—congratulate her on twenty-five years of happy service at Sunrays, where every day is a sunny day.