Donald Poindexter, a massage therapist who moved to St. John last May, sets up his equipment outside of the busy communications center to give chair massages on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 11:00am and 2 p.m. As payment he takes whatever amount the client can afford to give.
It’s his way of connecting with the community after the stress of Hurricane Irma. Although he was new to the island, he was deeply moved by the way St. John residents responded to the disaster. “Everybody pulled together as a community, more as a family. I thought I could give back, other than doing physical work, to relieve some of the stress, pain, and anxiety of the cleanup.”
Poindexter and his partner Pam Moore moved to St. John to realize their dream of opening a full-service day spa. Long-time residents of Northern Virginia, they had visited St. John many times and talked of moving to the island, and then an opportunity presented itself.
“Pam came last January (2017), and on a whim decided to see how the market (for houses) was,” Poindexter said. “She called me up on the second day and said, ‘We put down money on a house.’ Then she called me back and said, ‘There’s a spa for sale; should we get it?’ I said, ‘of course!’”
The couple purchased Drift Away Day Spa located in the shopping center above the St. John Market near the Westin Resort. Moore had experience in business management, and Poindexter had recently graduated from the Northern Virginia School of Therapeutic Massage after a 26-year career as a personal trainer and fitness instructor specializing in kickboxing, cycling, and women’s self-defense.
Over the summer they moved into their new house in Upper Carolina, got their business licenses, and were getting ready to open for the season when Hurricane Irma approached. Deciding that a house built in the 1970’s was probably not as safe as a relatively new concrete structure, they spent the storm at Drift Away. It turned out to be a wise move. Their business got wet, but their home was completely destroyed.
The day after the storm, they tried to make their way to Coral Bay to see how their house fared and were stunned by what they encountered. The debris on Centerline Road was 20 feet high. There they met Felipe Oliveri who had been on a bobcat trying to clear the road since the night before. “It was amazing. Felipe was out there all night and all the next morning. We just joined in. That’s what everybody did. There was a line of cars stretching back a half mile.”
Later that day, Poindexter said he ate the best meal of his life, his first hot meal after the storm served up at the restaurant 420 to Center —an English muffin, half of a piece of chicken, and a slice of provolone.
“Because of the people here and the way things happened after the storm, we opened our eyes and said, “My goodness! This is home!” Poindexter said.
The problem was the spa business was heavily dependent on tourism. Poindexter and Moore decided to let go of their lease for the day spa but keep the name Drift Away St. John Professional Massage Services. (A non-profit health clinic has since moved into their intended space.) They’re rethinking their business plan, and in the meantime, Poindexter carries a portable massage table and makes house calls.
He describes his style as a combination of therapeutic and energetic. “I work a lot off a person’s energy. I’m in tune with a person, and if I feel something’s not right, I work on that.”
It was fortunate that Moore had ordered a portable massage chair before the storm, but it was unfortunate that it only got as far as Puerto Rico by September 5. After weeks of delay, the chair arrived on St. John, and Poindexter approached Cid Hamling at Connections about setting up under an awning outside and taking clients on a walk-in basis.
The chair allows a client to lean forward and relax while Poindexter works on stress areas, particularly head and neck, and the lower back. “I’ve also seen a lot of shoulder and upper back injuries from people who were not used to doing the type of work they did after the storm,” he said.
He loves the work. “I’m still fresh out of the gate,” he said. “I thought I’d miss my personal training practice, but being able to use my training like this is so rewarding.” Like a lot of people after the storm, he’s had to reinvent himself and now also works part-time installing satellite dishes. While the couple is awaiting an SBA loan to rebuild their house, friends of friends in Chocolate Hole have provided a place to stay.
“I’m a believer,” Poindexter said. “If the island wants you here, it will provide for you to be here.”
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