The hot tub is still hot.
Polyester, platform shoes, disco and other icons of the 1970s have faded away, but the redwood tub of hot water and steam continues to simmer.
"In the past, when people thought 'hot tub' they immediately thought 'California,' " said Tina Huber, store manager of Hein Bros. Pooland Spa Shoppe in Glen Burnie. "And it's getting more and more popular."
The hot tub, a wooden tub first made popular on the West Coast in the 1970s, and the spa, a newer acrylic version with the same whirlpool action, range in size from 65 inches to a "swim-spa" length of 14 feet.
Pat Tongue and Larry Hyland, owners of Sauna Circus in Annapolis, recognized the boom in the spa business when they opened the store 14 years ago. Since then business has continued to grow; they expect to sell at least 250 hot tubs and spas this year.
Both Hyland and Tongue, anxious to demonstrate the advantages of owning a hot tub or spa, encourage potential customers to take the plunge right in the showroom.
"We got a group of friends together and had a party in the showroom," said Gordon Thompson, who purchased a "swim-spa"after sampling the model in the showroom during one visit. "We stayed in about 45 minutes."
"For those who haven't experienced it," said Hyland, "we give them that opportunity. And I know they won't be disappointed."
Depending on the size of the hot tub or spa, and theinstallation cost, prices start at $3,000 to $6,000 -- excluding thecost to heat it every month.
"There are a lot of extra costs involved," said Thompson. "It holds 1,400 gallons of water . . . and you've got to keep it clean."
Every two to three months, said Hyland, the hot tub should be drained and filled up again with a garden hose,and disinfected with a package of chemicals supplied by the spa company. The chemical package includes pH crystals, a thermometer and bromine -- a substitute for the harsher chlorine chemical used in swimming pools.
The swim-spa, which resembles a small pool, allows a person to swim in place against the force of high-powered water jets. Itincludes a separate compartment for whirlpool use and is one of the newer models on the market. Although it contributes to a $60-a-month heating bill for Thompson, he claims it's worth the cost.
"There are more benefits of owning a spa than there are a pool," said Thompson. "You only get access to use (a pool) for three months a year, and the water isn't heated."
When purchasing a hot tub, acquiring the permit for installation can cause a delay. After the client signs thecontract with the spa dealer, said Hyland, it can take anywhere fromone hour to 90 days to obtain the permit from Annapolis Planning andZoning.
Although the paperwork is usually done by the spa company, there are some exceptions, depending on the size of the project.
It took Herb Zorn, who decided to reconstruct his deck as well as install a hot tub in March 1990, four months to receive a letter of approval.
"It helps to get photos of the area (under construction)," said Zorn, "and it takes patience."
Once the project is completed,owners can enjoy healthful benefits as well as social enjoyment, according to Huber. With the variety of different spa designs, the jet-action whirlpool can relieve arthritis pain and other health problems.
"It's a status symbol to some," said Huber, "but it's social, therapeutic and very relaxing."
Zorn, who has an active schedule, uses it three or four times weekly for both purposes.
"It's great to wake up to in the morning," said Zorn. "And at night or twilight it'sfabulous."