Kat Wood and Aaron Shields describe themselves as partners in life, work and play. Both are transplants to Keene who have settled in and are growing roots, both in their business, Mudita Massage & Wellness on Emerald Street, and in a community of young entrepreneurs that has sprouted in Keene. Mudita is a Sanskrit word that roughly translates to “finding joy in the happiness and success of others.”
How did you find your way to Keene?
KAT: I moved here about 10 years ago. My dad was living here and I didn’t want to go to college right away and needed to be somewhere else. So I moved from 20 minutes south of Boston to work and figure out what I wanted to do. I never intended on staying or going to Keene State, so of course, that’s what happened.
AARON: I’m from Pennsylvania originally. I moved up here in 2012 and worked for Tender Corporation, but they moved their facilities to Littleton. I was a salesman for them when they moved up north and when I heard that was happening, I knew I had to find something else. It was kind of great because I wasn’t really feeling that job. It wasn’t speaking to me. I knew I had to find something else to do.
How did you decide to get into bodywork?
KAT: I went to Keene State and graduated with a degree in geography and environmental studies. At the same time, I was finishing my yoga teacher training. That set me on this other path of bodywork, health and wellness. I was the odd-jobs girl for a really long time, juggling jobs, working at the (Monadnock Food) Co-op, the farmers’ market. I would clean people’s houses and garden and walk dogs. I knew I wanted to go back to school because in my yoga teacher training I never really got much anatomy. It was something I felt like I needed. I always thought about massage school and Aaron was like, maybe I’ll go for nursing, but the program was full and he couldn’t even start for a year-and-a-half later.
AARON: It would have taken three to four years to get to where I wanted to be in nursing and didn’t want to spend that amount of time. The one-year massage program was perfect and we were able to do everything together.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
KAT: I had been doing this self-employed, odd jobs thing for so long and renting other people’s places to teach my classes … and then with both of us being massage therapists, It just didn’t make sense to work for someone else. We want to have the freedom to create what we want and not to have to ask if it’s OK.
How did you settle on the location on Emerald Street?
AARON: We were very lucky. This location was being leased by Jeni Callihan of Jeni Skin Care and Kat had been working with her pretty closely in Jeni’s essential oils business. Jeni wanted out of the lease so she could focus more on her oils and asked if we would take over the lease. The place was a perfect location, downtown, right off Main Street and plenty of free parking. We started renovating in late August. Our landlord was kind enough to have his contractor come in, build it out and put in two treatment rooms in the back. Kat and I installed the flooring, painted, put in the living plant wall and installed all the art. We opened in October.
How does it feel to be part of the “Emerald Street Revival”?
KAT: We didn’t know all of this was going to happen. Jeff and Eliza [Murphy, owners of Brewbaker’s on Main Street] opened Terra Nova Organic Coffee Roasters a little before us. Then Fire Dog, and Salt and Lime opened. It’s really cool to have all this energy around us and to be part of all of this. We go to see Isaac [Kaufman, owner of Salt and Lime] for lunch probably more than we should. And Sam [Temple, owner of Fire Dog Breads] brings us leftover pastries and bread. We are really lucky. We have awesome neighbors.
How do you stand out in a crowded field of massage therapists?
AARON: There are a lot of massage therapists in the area. That is a challenge. We have to separate ourselves from the others. By offering the yoga classes regularly, that sets us apart. The essential oils, the aestheticians that work here as well … we offer a lot in one place. That helps us stand out.
KAT: We’re pulling in different pieces of the community. Our art rotates every six weeks. We have live music every Friday with our yoga class. That’s pretty unique. We are doing events with other small businesses.
AARON: Kat just did a yoga class at Branch and Blade Brewing, another relatively new company. We are doing a succulent workshop where people can come in and learn about terrariums. We have multiple opportunities to (collaborate) with other people.
How competitive is the massage therapy business?
KAT: It’s really a great community of bodyworkers. Very supportive and not competitive, for the most part. We meet regularly as a group, which is awesome, to sit with other people and talk about what you do when this happens, or someone might say I have this client and I don’t really feel like I am helping them, maybe your style would be better suited. I feel really fortunate to be part of that. Every therapist has their own style and every person has their own needs and preferences. There’s room for all of us.
What’s it like to see Keene as a hotspot for young entrepreneurs like yourselves?
KAT: It’s really cool to see other people that are our age that are making the commitment to stay in the community. I’ve been here for 10 years and I am starting to see it transform and shift. There’s Jordan Scott [owner and culinary director at Machina Arts], a local chef with many irons in the fire and Georgia [Cassimatis, manager of 17Rox]. To have young people that are excited about creating what they want in their community is really cool.