By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jan 20, 2008 at 5:34 AM

It's Melissa Wright's job to give massages, but for the self-employed owner of Nourish, 1301 N. Astor St., her career is almost a calling -- and one that's built a loyal following in her nine years in the industry.

She's now in her third year of running a one-woman show, and Wright hasn't had a hard time getting the word out.

"I was blessed to have a clientele that decided to follow me," she says. "It's been word of mouth."

From her quiet Downtown office, a space with hardwood floors, a fireplace and walls pained in soothing hues, her long-time customers actually account for only about a quarter of her business. It's her reputation, she says, that has booked Wright more solidly than many massage therapists.

"Evening hours and weekends fill up faster, and some people decided it was easier to book a year out," says Wright, almost humbly, since she never like to turn clients down.

That means that Wright, though she doesn't like to dwell on it, is pretty much working all the time.

"I do work a lot, but having your own business means there are a lot of other things to do. But when I walk through this door, any sorts of troubles or stresses go away."

That's correct, Wright says that giving massages is actually therapeutic, too. And that's because she says that this profession is really her calling.

Says Wright, "Honestly, I think this is what I was supposed to do with my life. I love doing it, and for some reason, I'm just blessed with good hands."

Wright says she's thought about expanding, but she says that bigger isn't always better. She's considering bringing in another person to fill in during her days off or for administrative work.

But for now, business is good, even if the rates at Nourish are a bit less expensive than some of her larger competitors. An hour massage, for example, costs $70.

"I just raised my prices by $10, but for my experience level, it's on the lower end. Some places charge extra for hot stones or essential oil. I like using those. That's what makes my treatment a signature of Melissa. I'm not going to charge extra for those things.

"I still want to make it reasonable so everyone can afford to come and continue their treatment," says Wright.

Wright is a licensed aesthetician, too, so she provides skin care like facials and waxing. She does ear candling, too, but massages make up the majority of her business. It's where she did the bulk of her training; after school, where she also taught, Wright worked at a number of Milwaukee salons and kept current on techniques with continuing education classes.

And through her professional journeys, Wright has heard that the market is saturated. But she doesn't believe it: "There are enough people to go around."

Maybe it's because anywhere Wright goes, she hears the same comment when she tells someone what kind of business she owns.

"They tell me about their aches and pains, they say, 'My back is sore,''" she says, laughing. "And I tell them my back is sore, too."

However, Wright's business is about connecting with people, and word of mouth is her best advertising.

"I never mind talking about work, and that's not a problem," says Wright.

Wright says the she draws the most gratification when she can make a different in a client's life. Having worked on cancer patients, pre-natal clients or just people who need to unwind, she really does consider her vocation a blessing.

"We live in a high-stress society, and we're always on the go. The world isn't going to stop because your back hurts. It's very healing just to have the time for yourself, when you can get back into your body and balance things out."

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.