Staff at North of 60 Massage Therapy and Wellness are getting a handle on the tensions of business recovery after they closed for more than two months during the Covid lockdown.
“We re-opened on June 1, which was also our three-year business anniversary,” said Krista Rusk and Danielle Horvat, co-owners and masseuses at the massage centre on 49 Street.
The path to reopening was a long one after they decided to close on March 20, the day before the NWT’s first confirmed case of Covid was announced.
They had no revenue coming in at all during those 10 weeks and saw no clients, unlike some other health-related establishments that could maintain some activities through emergency or remote procedures.
“I’m a real busybody and the stresses of the unknown and not knowing when we’ll be able to go back to work (was challenging),” Rusk admitted. “And with the different protocols, there was a lot of uncertainty until they were clarified. We didn’t have revenue but we had costs for personal protective equipment and our rent and monthly operating expenses that we couldn’t postpone (such as) the Mindbody software program we that we use for bookings and pay for monthly.”
More than 500 appointments had to be cancelled and later rebooked. Not being able to see her clients was tough for Rusk.
“We have clients with therapeutic needs and some come in regularly. Some of them have chronic injuries and the therapies help get them cope and they’re dealing with pain management. It was hard knowing you weren’t there to help them manage their pain. It was hard not being able to be there for them and to help them de-strees,” she said.
But the nature of their business meant they didn’t experience some of the common difficulties faced by other small companies.
The 10-week shutdown was temporary for the three masseuses, and no one was laid off. The adoption of added sanitation standards was a small transition because the masseuses were already used to disinfecting the premises due to the physical character of the job. However, they still make skin contact while performing massages.
“Latex gloves aren’t mandatory for us. We use elbows and forearms (too) so you’d have to wear really long gloves for that,” Rusk said with a laugh.
The other measures they’ve adopted are familiar to most other businesses, including the use of hand sanitizer and mandatory face masks for staff and clients. If clients find it uncomfortable to wear masks then masseuses will don face shields, glasses and a mask.
Clients are asked to wait in the hallways and come five minutes before their appointments instead of 10-15 minutes in advance – or to come right on time – so there’s less potential contact in the office. Appointments must be booked online and clients answer Covid screening questions before each appointment and again when they arrive, in case their condition has changed.
“Everybody has been very understanding and respectful of the guidelines. There hasn’t been a problem with that but it’s a lot of work,” said Husk.
She’s proud to say that North of 60 is almost back to its pre-Covid level of activity. It helped that they’ve received funding assistance from federal and NWT relief programs, but she and her staff have been doing a lot of extra work to get to this point. They managed to catch up on most of the backlog of canceled appointments from late March to June and their regular clients have returned.
“Before Covid we were doing about 18 appointments a day between three of us. Now we can only do 12-15 appointments a day because we need that half hour gap between appointments to sanitize the office and wipe down every surface,” Rusk said. “Before Covid we had about 15 minute gaps between appointments. The extra time now is also so that clients don’t pass each other in the hallway. So we’re at the office longer now (but) we’re not necessarily doing more appointments. Before Covid I would’ve worked, for example, 9 to 2 but now I might have to work 9 to 4.”
Rusk tries to be aware of the toll that the extra work might have on her. It took the pandemic shutting down her business for her to understand she was pushing herself too hard.
“I tried to see the silver lining during Covid and I didn’t realize I was getting burned out until I went off work about a week after we shut down. I was doing about seven massages a day. It’s an equal balance of trying to be there for clients and maintaining personal health as well,” she explained. “Covid taught me to maintain a balance between work and home. Being a business owner, you’re putting in work as a masseuse but also taking care of the business and office and accounts.”
Still, Rusk is grateful they’ve brought the business back and are able to resume operations.
“(It’s great) seeing our clients again and getting back to the routine and being around my co-workers. It’s a nice feeling.”