In days of yore, a family sauna was a community gathering place — people socialized before or after their turn on the benches.
Public saunas were thriving commercial ventures that filled both cleanliness and social needs — the Kangas Sauna in Thunder Bay, Ontario, served meals to those waiting.
Places like the Ely Steam Sauna (in Ely, Minnesota) drew “regulars.” Over the years, people built their own home saunas, so public saunas declined in business in most cities.
But now a new form of public sauna is filling a niche — the Little Box Sauna in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Little Box Sauna is the brainchild and work of two architect/designer women, Andrea Johnson and Molly Reichert, who masterminded this “mobile hot spot” — a portable sauna at locations around the Twin Cities metro area, like the Nicollet Mall, Como Park, Ikea, Radisson Blu, the Mall of America.
They see sauna as a way to foster community, especially in winter. So they responded to that need — and received a grant in “creative placemaking” to make Little Box Sauna happen.
Their sauna holds about 8 bathers. It's a beautiful structure whose exterior is adorned with charred wood. Because it's in metro areas, it's heated by propane. Check their blog to see the stages of it being built, and the places it's been.
It's also being promoted through the 612 Sauna Society, (from a Minneapolis telephone area code). Swimsuits are worn — it's a co-ed group and public. A few workers refill water containers and keep the fire going.
While people in my age group respond to the health benefits of sauna, a younger demographic is finding connectedness — sauna is becoming a new social media. Is this cool or what??