SOMERS POINT - For Kacey Caruso, getting into business was like a fairytale come true. Then for several years, she wondered if fate was planning an unhappy ending to the story.
After finishing massage school, Caruso, 35, was working at a salon and spa in Galloway Township when one of her regular clients asked if she had thought about opening her own spa and suggested she make a business plan.
She laughed, since with two kids she already felt fully booked in life, but that night started working on a business plan anyway.
A few months later, when Joe Dombrowski, of Ocean City, returned, she showed him the plan, later that day met with his wife, and before Caruso knew it, the couple were her silent partners in Tranquil Touch Day Spa in the ShopRite Shopping Center here.
As if to balance the good fortune of her help from the Dombrowskis, the playful gods of business then posed a series of challenges for Caruso, of Egg Harbor Township.
After a costly build of the facility in 2006, she opened Tranquil Touch the next year - just as the economy pitched into the worst downturn in 80 years.
A week later, it got worse, when a boxing gym opened next door.
"I'm trying to start a quiet, relaxing business and they have loud music and people constantly hitting bags. I had people walk out because of the noise," she said.
The boxing people wouldn't help, so after a year she gave up and added soundproofing at considerable expense. "Then almost immediately the boxing gym went out of business," Caruso said.
Tranquil Touch - offering massages, facials, body treatments, waxing, and spray makeup and tanning - struggled in the downturn just like all other providers of discretionary services and products.
Most other businesses, however, got significant rent reductions as landlords sought to keep their spaces occupied. But Caruso couldn't get her landlord to budge, not on space near the hugely popular ShopRite.
The strain and stress were almost too much for Caruso and her spa, more than a massage could relieve. Then it got worse again.
"It cost me my marriage. I went through a divorce and became a single mom with two kids," she said.
Her story would end here with the closing of her business, like so many others the past few years, if it weren't for the support of her angels, the Dombrowskis.
Then she met a fellow business person in the center, Corey Biscieglia, owner of Top Shelf Sports, who suggested she add a boutique to her spa and start selling online as well.
Now there are dresses, sweaters, handbags and costume jewelry out front, with brands such as Ya, Elan and Sugarlips, and nothing more than $50. "That's really growing and doing well," Caruso said.
Inside, Tranquil Touch features facials and body treatments with premium brands such as SkinCeuticals, Jan Marini and Dermalogica. And mud wraps.
"We brush on the mud and wrap them in Mylar, then sit them in a heating blanket," she said. "It opens the pores and detoxifies the body."
The new boutique and the slowly improving economy are once again making a happy ending to the tale likely. U.S. spa client visits increased from 143 million in 2009 to 150 million the following year, says the International SPA Association.
"We've had our best summer in three years," she said.
Caruso will celebrate Tranquil Touch Day Spa's seventh anniversary with a party to benefit Gilda's Club in Northfield. "We've been working with Gilda's Club since we opened, doing a massage or facial every month with a cancer patient," she said.
The event from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Caffe Luciano in Longport will be presented with the help of Biscieglia's Top Shelf Sports, of Egg Harbor Township.
Tickets are $30 in advance, $40 at the door, and available at Tranquil Touch and Top Shelf Sports.
Contact Kevin Post:
Tranquil Touch Day Spa
Location: 37 Bethel Road, ShopRite Shopping Center, Somers Point
Owner: Kacey Caruso, 35,
of Egg Harbor Township