In a sunlit room at The Still Point in Takoma Park, owner Tori Paide leans close and sticks five slender needles into the cartilage of the client's ear. The first two needles are intended to stimulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the last three go into pressure points that Chinese medicine links to the lungs, liver and kidneys. Forty minutes and $30 later, the client reports feeling cleansed, invigorated and deeply relaxed.
This is Acupuncture Happy Hour at the Still Point, a spa and wellness center where customers can get their chakras balanced and indulge in pedicures with herbal foot baths and formaldehyde-free nail polish. A licensed acupuncturist, Tori, 37, started the Still Point in 2007 because she craved exchange with other practitioners. For customers, the result is a spa that's more Zen center than Red Door, with an array of treatments that Paide says attempt to nourish as they beautify.
"We really are a place where you can go and get healed," Tori says.
Like organic produce, the Still Point appeals to a nature-centered, health-conscious ethos. Exercise and yoga classes are held in the big room upstairs, along with Acupuncture Happy Hour, which is offered twice a week for $30 a session ($20 if you book in advance). The boutique sells bath salts, locally made soap and wildflower honey from Bali. All the merchandise is natural or organic, and nearly everything is priced under $40.
Raised in Silver Spring, Tori joined the Peace Corps and worked as a development consultant with Chemonics International, but the stress and long hours gave her insomnia, headaches and mood swings. She visited an acupuncturist and was amazed by how much better she felt. Within a week, she was researching acupuncture-training programs, ultimately enrolling in a three-year program at the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel.
After graduating, Tori set up a private acupuncture practice in Takoma Park, where she lives with her husband, Andrew Chapin, an international development consultant, and their two children. When a larger space opened across the street, she and her husband took out a home equity loan and spent $30,000 on improvements, a new Web site, equipment and massage tables. Tori invested another $30,000 in business income to expand the space, and the Still Point broke even last July. Since then, Tori estimates, the business has grossed more than $200,000, with a net of about $43,000, from which she has been paying herself about $800 a week.
Beth Giunta, a 34-year-old nurse and mother of three from Hyattsville who visits the Still Point for regular acupuncture, says her training in Western medicine made her initially skeptical about the benefits of the Eastern therapy.
"After a year and a half, I don't have any doubts," she says. "I'm definitely more able to relax, more able to focus."
The Still Point started with five practitioners; now there are 19, including massage therapists, acupuncturists, a nutritionist and a personal trainer. Practitioners receive full pay for their services, paying Tori a flat rent. She has a more traditional arrangement with the nail techs, who are spa employees. She plans to add an organic cafe and child care for mothers undergoing treatments, and she wants to expand to other locations. Although Tori works 80-hour weeks, she says she draws strength from her acupuncture practice, as well as the growth of her business.
"I think it's because it's what I'm supposed to be doing," she says. "It's not a job to me."
Have you recently started an unusual, profitable business? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.