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“Alexa, play spa music,” Susan Bishop told her smart speaker on a recent morning. Bishop, a licensed massage therapist and owner of Swampscott Massage Spa, LLC, took an hour from her busy morning and talked with the Swampscott Reporter about how her business has been faring since reopening in Phase 2 this past June.
We were masked and sat six feet apart; a long massage table divided us in a room painted a soothing periwinkle blue. Soft lights twinkled, and art work with relaxing and positive images graced wall space. There was a hushed, almost prayerful sense of peace in the space.
Bishop spoke with a mix of pride and anguish and a note of hope as she recounted the upheaval that began on March 11 with Gov. Charlie Baker’s order to close all non-essential businesses during the pandemic.
“We’ve been doing pretty good” since reopening on June 22, said the 47-year-old Swampscott resident of her business which employs three LMTs including herself, two estheticians and one Botox nurse in the cozy 1,000-square foot salon tucked away on Columbia Street behind the Swampscott Commuter Rail Station.
“Since opening,” she said, “we’ve been safe, clean and healthy, God willing.”
She reflected on the years of hard work she put in to cultivate and grow her business and fears that it would all be washed away by the coronavirus.
“I remember on St. Patrick’s eve writing the letter stating that I’d have to close,” she said. “July 5 marks eight years since I opened my doors. This has been a little diamond in the rough. Before that, I’d always worked for someone else. I was so lucky to get this space.”
She attributed much of the success in reopening to the support she received from Swampscott Director of Community and Economic Development Marzie Galazka, who put together a business advisory committee to support small businesses.
“We were ready ahead of time,” she said with appreciation.
The other lifeline that kept the business afloat when it was put into a coma state was sales of products from the website.
“We sold CBD balm which is good for pain and CBD oil which is calming and works for treating anxiety,” she said. “But what really saved us was having lots of clients buying gift cards and maintenance plans.”
Now that the business is open again, she is solidly booked with loyal customers using their gift cards and maintenance plans.
The reopening has not been without some problems, she said, shaking her head.
“It’s still hard to get the PPE (personal protective equipment). There’s been a lot of price gouging,” she said. “Small latex rubber gloves went from $9 to $29 overnight.”
Bishop estimated she spends approximately an extra couple hundred dollars a month on PPE, an unexpected but necessary expense.
In addition to following protocols and guidelines set by the town and the Department of Public Health and using PPE, there are additional steps that must be followed with clients.
“I have to take everyone’s temperature and have clients sign a waiver of liability as well as complete a health and wellness form,” Bishop said.
After a massage or skin care treatment, the entire room must be wiped down with sanitizer, she continued.
“Everything that the client touched—door knobs, chairs—and the sheets have to be changed of course,” she said. “We finish it all off with lemon-scented Lysol, the new aromatherapy these days.”
She said it can be “mentally exhausting” at times to remember all the steps but it’s a process she and her staff take very seriously.
Bishop is well acquainted with hard work and the tireless drive needed to develop and nurture a small business. She described growing up in a close-knit family where she was “the baby of eight” siblings.
In December, Bishop moved in to help care for her 86-year-old mother who is living with dementia. Only recently did she permit her elderly father to go out to Market Basket to do the grocery shopping.
In addition to owning and managing Swampscott Massage Spa, Bishop is an active member of the Rotary Club, which she has been with for the past 14 years, serving as president and is the three-time recipient of the Paul Harris award, named in honor of the Rotary Club founder. Bishop is also on the nascent Swampscott Anchor Food Pantry.
And if that weren’t enough, Bishop somehow finds time to do community service. For the past 15 years, Bishop has participated in cancer fundraising, primarily the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.
“But since they stopped, I’ve been fundraising for the North Shore Cancer Walk the past five years. My family, friends and I have raised as much as $30,000 some years,” she said. “Our current team is #ronstRONg, in memory of my brother in law who passed last Jan. 19, 2019.”
As the hour comes to a close, Bishop reflected on how the pandemic has impacted society.
“We’re not meant to be unsocial. We didn’t get a chance to say good-bye on March 16,” she said. “I’m so grateful I can still do my job and offer this healthy touch therapy to my clients. I benefit, too. God put us on time out to help us reevaluate what’s important.”
Swampscott Massage Spa, LLC is located at 17 Columbia St. To learn more, visit swampscottmassagespa.com.