“I’m still baffled by what to call us,” laughs Rick Sharpell, the massage therapist who opened Relax, around the corner from his West Village apartment, 11 years ago. It is decidedly, and refreshingly, not a spa: No fluffy robes, no cucumber-infused water, no Buddha statues. Instead, Rick and the eight carefully vetted therapists he’s assembled focus on providing healing, life-changing bodywork.
“All of us want to make a difference in someone’s musculature. And it takes more than slathering on oil and wiping it off to do so,” explains Rick. By the way, he uses no-nonsense Biotone oils, gels, and lotions, though he does have essential oils if requested. The “massage office,” the moniker he’s most comfortable with, has a small waiting room with a water cooler, and two pleasant, but unremarkable treatment rooms. Through the years, he’s resisted spa-inspired innovations. “People used to call asking for hot stone massage several times a week,” he remembers, “But it felt like a gimmick-y fad to me and I resisted.”
Relax’s nine therapists act as massage mechanics, that is they work on fine-tuning specific problem areas. Tight hamstrings from running? Shoulder pain from hunching at your computer? No problem. “Of course, we also do general relaxation massage,” says Rick. “But we tend to see a lot of weekend warriors. During marathon season we had a dozen runners coming in for bodywork tune-ups.”
How to choose a therapist? Rick acts as matchmaker. “I return all the calls for appointments, so I talk to new clients, ask about their issues and what kind of massage they like, and then I pair them with the right therapist,” he explains.
It’s also the quintessential small-town business, accepting personal checks (Rick’s only been burned once in 11 years) and it doesn’t require a credit card number to secure an appointment.
Relax, 716 Greenwich St. (at Charles St.), 212-206-9714, www.rickrelax.com. Rates: $95 for one-hour; $115 for one-hour session with Rick.
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