Spa shootings rattle unique, changing Cheshire Bridge area

Members of the media set up near the spas where a gunman opened fire Tuesday evening on Piedmont Road in Atlanta, killing four women. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Members of the media set up near the spas where a gunman opened fire Tuesday evening on Piedmont Road in Atlanta, killing four women. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Cheshire Bridge Road and the area that surrounds it has a colorful history. Known for its eclectic mix of strip clubs, adult entertainment shops, thrift stores and restaurants, it has remained a popular — and notorious — nightlife destination over the decades, surviving consternation from local residents and attempts by city officials to phase out the iconic clubs.

But the business district just south of I-85 between Midtown and Buckhead has never experienced the kind of shocking episode that unfolded Tuesday night, when a gunman opened fire inside two spas on Piedmont Road, according to authorities.

Gold Spa, where three women were shot to death, and Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where investigators found a fourth woman dead, are two of several spa businesses located in the neighborhood.

Atlanta Police officers and detectives respond to a crime scene. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
Atlanta Police officers and detectives respond to a crime scene. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The shootings had many in the community on edge Wednesday. While the area has dealt with crime over the years, many residents and business owners said they generally feel safe during the day. Shootings have occurred at businesses overnight, but the violence that happened on Tuesday is far from normal.

”It’s very concerning,” said Bob Glascock, the president of the Piedmont Heights Alliance, a local business organization. “I can’t even remember anything like that ever happening in our neighborhood.”

Glascock and other area business owners said they did not know the people who own or work at the spas that were targeted.

Nino Harris, the manager at Johnny’s New York Style Pizza on Cheshire Bridge Road, said the shootings were especially unsettling because most of the victims were Asian women. Attacks against Asian-Americans have risen in recent months, heightening fear for many in that community.

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“There’s a lot of massage parlors around here, too,” Harris said. “It’s just a hate crime, I think. There was a target behind it.”

As the shootings made national news, it brought more attention to the area of town known as Atlanta’s unofficial red-light district, a commercial corridor that’s home to adult establishments as well as antique shops and beloved institutions like The Colonnade restaurant. It’s also known as a welcoming place for Atlanta’s LGBTQ community.

The clubs have spurred some complaints from nearby residents about noise or crime late at night. Street racing has also become an issue over the last year, neighborhood leaders said.

“There’s stuff that happens over here at night, just because it comes with the territory of nightclubs being over there,” said Stedman Loia, the manager at Out of the Closet, a nonprofit thrift store that has a pharmacy and offers HIV testing. Loia also lives down the street from the store on Cheshire Bridge. “In the daytime, it’s normal. Families walking around, people walking their dogs. It’s nothing too far off from city living.”

Two doors down from the Aromatherapy Spa, Craig Barnes, the owner of G Salon Spa Store, also said crime is not a big issue during business hours.

“It’s just a shame,” Barnes said of Tuesday’s shootings.

Reaction to the violence reverberated in the nearby residential neighborhoods, which are historic and mostly made up of large, single-family homes. Residents were rattled by the shootings but relieved the suspect was arrested, said Jim Hardy, the president of the Piedmont Heights Civic Association.

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”This is an area where we walk a lot,” Hardy said. “I got an awful lot of texts and emails and phone calls last night with people super worried about it. There’s some obvious fear, with good reason.”

The area is also rapidly changing. New luxury apartment complexes have been built on Piedmont and Cheshire Bridge in recent years, as well as a Sprouts Farmers Market and upscale eateries. A new community of townhomes sits just behind the Aromatherapy Spa.

“You have all this random stuff on (Cheshire Bridge), and then you have half-a-million, million-dollar homes right behind here,” said Loia. “It’s a weird mixture.”

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