Seven years ago, Eileen Bristol was about to move to California when the property at Huron and First came up for sale.
“I said, ‘Oh, man, I love that building – what could I do there?” she recalls, laughing.
The building was a former gas station built in the 1930s, and what she decided to do was start RelaxStation, a small walk-in massage business that crammed a lot of personality into the tight 280-square-foot space. Business has been good – so good that “we pretty well maxed out the space,” she says.
It was time to expand, and her project to more than double the space – a $900,000 $90,000 investment – is nearing completion.
“To me, it seemed like the obvious next step for the business,” she says.
She’s enclosing the canopy that served as covering for open-air massages during decent weather, but keeping as much light as possible with large windows and French doors. The travertine tile is installed and awaits grouting, and covers a radiant heating system.
There’ll be much more space for the 30 part-time massage therapists to do their work. “They’ve just been wonderful working in such close conditions, staying out of each others’ way,” Bristol says. They’ve been gracious about the chaos during construction as well, working in tents and using a truck for their office.
Bristol also is expanding her signature biodynamic garden along the Huron Street side, using an approach developed by Rudolf Steiner. Some designers wanted to build a wall there, she says. “I said no – that garden is for everyone who walks by or drives by. It enriches people’s lives, even people who aren’t clients.”
Architect Robert Black, who met Bristol through the local Rudolf Steiner movement, did the design work, and sees it as more than just another project. He describes the business as a “gateway to Ann Arbor,” and in stark contrast to the tall Ashley Terrace structure going up across the street.
“It’s about what it means to the city of Ann Arbor and the quality of life here,” Black says. “This is what it means to be Ann Arbor.”
Ann Arbor City Council members also had praise for her project when they approved the plan earlier this year, thanking her for investing in the business years ago at a time when there were concerns about the Delonis Center, a shelter for the homeless that was being built just down the street.
For her part, Bristol just wants to bring a little beauty into her corner of the city. “I think that building has a real soul to it,” she says.
But people are the heart. “When clients become regulars,” Bristol says, “they feel part of the community here.” To celebrate that, she’ll be throwing a party on Sunday night at the business, where she’ll be playing electric bass with her eight-piece jazz funk band, First Flight. Last year’s event drew about 300 people.
Note: Tip o’ The Chronicle hat to Tom Brandt, who put the RelaxStation project on The Chronicle’s radar in a Sept. 10 Stopped.Watched. item.