Massage therapy moves outdoors, another pandemic adaptation

This week California has seen hair-cutting and nail salons move their offerings outdoors. 

Also under that umbrella: massage and other body work. 

With more than half of the state's counties on a Covid watch-list, outdoor services are a compromise in order to re-open at all. 

"People have been grateful to have a little time to relax," said aesthetician Annie Hutson, as she performed a hydrating facial Evo Day Spa in Mill Valley. 

Hutson's client was actually reclined outside the spa, both women wearing masks, with a protective plastic shield positioned between them. 

The breezeway at Strawberry Village mall has enough space for 3 tables, 2 for massage, 1 for facials and waxing.

Thursday, the first day of operation, they were filled.  
"And everyone was so happy and so blissed-out and felt so good," said Evo owner Gail Ann. 

"It warmed my heart because that's what we do, is make people feel better." 

Ann was not sure how enthusiastically clients would jump from indoor to outdoor treatments.

She sent out an e-mail blast Wednesday night, informing clients of the re-opening, and had 60 calls to return Thursday morning.

"People were answering their phone and before saying hello, they were cheering, they were so happy we were open," said Ann 

Now she expects to extend her hours to fit more people in.  

"It's not only the pampering aspects, but just the relaxation of the nervous system, and right now, everybody's pretty stressed out."

Many clients say, during the pandemic, their health and well-being have slipped. 

"Everybody needs these kinds of services for their mind, body and spirit at this point, " said Ann. 

"To be able to come to a place and be nurtured and cared for and loved is very healing." 

At the Stretch Lab franchise in the same shopping center, tables are also positioned outside. 

Clients have their temperatures taken and answer a series of health questions before lying down to have their muscles stretched into different positions.

Flexologists offer 25 or 50 minute sessions, intended to increase flexibility, and improve mobility, posture and range of motion. 

A busy dad stopped by for a quick stretch on a sore shoulder. 

"I think doing this outdoors with ventilation is a good idea, given current circumstances and public safety," said Bryan Medlin, before hurrying on his way. 

But the Stretch Lab location has been open less than a year, and so far, has had only about 20 percent of its regulars return. 

"People aren't sure what to think," said manager Sabina Mykas, " but once they see the effort we're putting in they see the value to stretching as opposed to not doing anything at all."

Sanitizers, gloves, masks, and shields are all available and in use at the studio.  

Mykas worries not everyone will find it relaxing getting worked on outdoors next to a parking lot. 

"I do feel our clients can go a little deeper into themselves and relax when they're indoors." 

But she hopes people will enjoy the benefits, especially after four months cooped up at home, possibly spending excessive time at a computer. 

"They're complaining of tightness, soreness, and just not being able to reach the level of wellness they had before," said Mykas. 

"Stretching certainly helps relieve stress and it's a point of connection with another person, conversation, because our hearts all go out to each other." 

Evo Spa, in business for 16 years, has been surviving on sales from its lifestyle and wellness boutique. 

When it ever re-opens fully, anti-virus air purifiers have been purchased and positioned in each treatment room. 

But for now, outdoor massage is the best option: with clients fully clothed and under a blanket. 

"No the nudity is not happening right now," smiled Ann. 

And no one is complaining, even though the tinkling sounds of spa music have been replaced by the occasional beep-beep of an ATM steps away on the sidewalk. 

"It's different but if I've learned anything in 2020 it's to be adaptable and flexible so we're working with it," said Hutson.