For Gretchen Hill, owner of Saltwater Massage Studio, Gloucester was always home away from home. While going to massage school and working in Boston, she made frequent trips here to visit her mother’s family and decompress from the fast-paced city life. But after growing tired of the concrete jungle, she packed her bags, drove her flame red Jeep Wrangler up to the North Shore and put down roots in America’s oldest seaport. And she’s been cultivating calm ever since.
Opening Saltwater had always been a pipe dream of Gretchen’s, and after moving up to Gloucester, she “decided to stop waiting for life to happen and decided to start living the life that [she] wanted to live.” I met her shortly thereafter in June of 2013, back when she was just embarking on her entrepreneurial journey. The doors to her studio, which could have easily been mistaken for a glorified shoebox tucked away on the second floor of Main Street, had been opened only days prior. I was fully expecting her to be overwhelmed like any new business owner would be, but decided to pop my head in anyways, and the second we introduced ourselves, her calming, palpable energy radiated through the room.
In her time on Main Street, a location that she opened with “ten cents and zero clients,” it was just her, and she had to figure out how to make ends meet. But as time went on, “people started coming through the doors, and they started coming back, and before you knew it, there was a little thing going.” Today, that little thing has blossomed into something a bit bigger. The point had been reached when she was having to turn away clients, people that were in legitimate pain, and that didn’t sit right with her. She had outgrown the shoebox and began searching for a new location for the studio. And after a lengthy hunt, she settled on 65 Pleasant Street, which was formerly Mamie’s Kitchen, a homestyle restaurant that had occupied the building for years.
Converting the space from a breakfast joint to a massage studio was no easy task. “It was totally gutted down to plywood floors, and I had to cash in a lot of favors from my mom and friends to help make it happen, but it’s been great,” she explained with a laugh. So great, in fact, that she was able to hire two new massage therapists to help keep up with the growing demand she had created. I guess humble beginnings are exactly as advertised, and while a lot has changed for Gretchen over the last few years, the soul of Saltwater has perpetually remained intact.
Her inspiration for the studio can be traced back to a simple, yet highly effective quote by Isak Dinesen, who eloquently wrote, “the cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears or the sea.” But her real inspiration runs fathoms deeper than that. “I’m inspired by Cape Ann,” she said. “I’m inspired by the colors of the blues and the grays and the rust. I love the juxtaposition of the rugged working waterfront and the sparkly blue ocean that goes on forever.”
Gretchen certainly takes advantage of her rustic surroundings, spending a great deal of time hiking through the forest and walking along the many pristine beaches with her dog Bodie. As an import from over the bridge, she has tremendous gratitude to be living in a place where she can do these types of things on a daily basis, which is often taken for granted by those born and raised in the beautiful port. All it takes is one brief chat with Gretchen and you will subconsciously be reminded to take in all the little things that life has to offer, which is much more than a breath of fresh air in the accelerated times we live in today.
My challenge for this project was trying to capture that same vibe and energy and reflect it outward, pure and true. And like most people, I’m my own worst critic, but Gretchen was super happy with the final result, and even let me know she already had new clients that had seen the video. Talk about a win-win for everyone.
I guess one parting thought I'd like to share is that as creative beings, we all have certain skills embedded within us; some of which are on the surface, while others lurk a bit deeper. But in all my time knowing Gretchen, and all the coffee-infused conversations we've had in the past, I never let her know what her story means to me, personally. So to conclude, I truly believe her inspiring story deserves to be told because, like Gretchen, when you stop waiting for life to happen and start living the life you want to, good things will happen. Thanks for reading.