Masseuses Treat Tension at Market, and Get Work
The International Home Furnishings Market in High Point is a world enclosed.
Access to the elite showrooms is guarded by the issuance of passes ‘— for exhibitors, buyers and a rarer and more powerful class known as ‘industry’ persons, not to mention the press and photographers.
Outside the showrooms, a peripheral economy of extra sales force and services by locals takes place. Young adults from High Point hand out glossy brochures to the buyers outside Market Square, trying to guide them to a particular manufacturer’s display. Young women wobbling on high heels and wearing low-cut halters hand free passes to the World Famous Tiki Cabaret to a group of sharp-dressed buyers from New York, hoping the young men will give up some of their cash for a lap dance tonight after fulfilling their professional obligations for the day.
The crisp suits, synthetic scarves, expensive eyeglasses and short skirts of the exhibitors and buyers reflect the fact that a large contingent of buyers and exhibitors come from New York. Groups of tuxedoed businessmen with Chinese names on their industry passes brush past industry reps with North Carolina accents.
‘“This is a very strange mix of people,’” says Gerald Shean, a 52-year old massage therapist from Archdale, who with Sue Walker, is giving chair and foot massages for a dollar a minute. ‘“There’s a lot of Europeans, a lot of Asians, a lot of Canadians, very few people from around here. There’s a market strategy about keeping the general public out. You don’t want them to know the wholesale price of the furniture.’”
On the afternoon of April 15, the second day of the spring market, Shean is kneading a gray-haired male client’s shoulder as the man slumps into a massage chair, head resting in a padded ring while Walker tends to a blond French woman wearing a tight green shirt, white pants and running shoes.
A couple massage chairs and beds are arrayed in an open area inside Market Square that also includes an assembly of kiosks with wireless service that can accommodate laptop computers and a small bookshop with glossy tomes devoted to the subject of high furnishing style. Down the hall are the Pearl Fever and Oriental Accent stores.
‘“When they come here, they need to treat their tension,’” Shean says of his clients. ‘“They’ve been carrying their luggage all day and breathing processed air on airplanes.’”
He adds: ‘“They’re more attentive, more alert and more effective at their jobs as buyers and sellers if they take care of that tension.’”
He works from 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. with steady patronage during market days. Other massage therapists make house calls outside of regular business hours, he says.
During the 50 weeks of the year when the market is closed he helps athletes cope with pain management, treats clerical workers with repetitive motion syndrome and works with ‘— as he puts it ‘— ‘“factory workers with bummed-up shoulders.’”
‘“That’s me,’” his client mumbles blissfully.
Actually, the client is 69-year old Don Witte of Altus, Okla., who is on a buying trip with his wife for her company, Gems Etc.
‘“The massage helps me with aches from arthritis, getting loosened up, and it helps me keep going,’” he says. ‘“It’s a tremendous asset for staying alert.’”
Getting up from the chair, he tells Shean that he pays four times as much for a massage at the Bellagio, a luxury hotel and casino in Las Vegas. He travels there for business unrelated to furniture, business he’d prefer to not discuss.
‘“We don’t gouge in High Point,’” Shean says. ‘“Not that they do in Las Vegas.’” He adds after Witte departs: ‘“If I keep my prices where they’re supposed to be, he’ll tell his friends. That’s karma.’”
Shean and the other masseuses pay the International Home Furnishings Authority for space to render their services, but he’s reluctant to reveal how much money changes hands. Like the exhibitors, he says, each masseuse works out her deal individually with the Authority.
This is the seventh market he’s worked, and masseuses have only been allowed into the showrooms for about three years, he says. The people in the area are more enlightened about the benefits of massage and are more likely to distinguish between licensed masseuses and unscrupulous practitioners who use it as a cover for prostitution.
‘“This area has come into the mainstream in the last few years in a more progressive way,’” he says. ‘“Seven years ago, the police would have escorted us out of here because this was the Bible Belt.’”
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