By Dave Carpenter
Susierra Willson has her hands in many pots, and when she isn’t employing them to treat patients at her massage therapy clinic in the Upper Beach, there’s a decent chance she’s out connecting with the broader community.
Susierra, or ‘Su’, owns Advanced Approaches to Massage on the south side of Kingston Road road between Main Street and Victoria Park Avenue. An award-winning therapist, Willson runs one of the most highly-regarded clinics in the city.
After extensive education and training in Asian and western therapeutic modalities, Willson, along with her business partner with whom she lived with at the time, opened their first clinic on Queen Street east in The Beach in 1990. Their ventured thrived for 12 years, however they parted ways in 2002 and Willson and set out on her own further north on Kingston Road.
Advanced Approaches to Massage, 927 Kingston Road, Upper Beach, Toronto. (Photo Dave Carpenter)
Experience and passion key to getting clinic off the ground:
“I felt like I had tons of energy and threw myself into renovating the place. I also had a lot of friends that helped,” Willson says. “However, financially and otherwise, it was a lot to deal with, building and renovating the place. I had another place I was living in, and I was seeing clients there at the same time while renovating our clinic on Kingston Road. “
Willson, newly independent and fueled by a vision of running her own clinic, went on a tear. “It was crazy. I would wake up after four hours of sleep, get on my stationary bike and ride in the middle of the night. It was exciting, and I couldn’t dispel all that energy by just meditating.”
Willson says co-running that first business laid the foundation for her success in launching and growing Advanced Approaches to Massage, yet not without an emotional cost. “I thought, ‘okay, well, I know how to do this,’ but some of the people that you expect to follow you don’t, so there’s a lot of grieving about that,” she says.
Su and front desk assistant Stephanie. (Photo Dave Carpenter)
Connecting with local community critical to business’ success:
Willson persevered, and eventually established her clinic in the early 2000s, connecting and forming relationships with fellow small business owners along the Kingston road strip, and started attending Kingston Road Village Business Community meetings. The now defunct Mr Slate Sports Bar pool hall and restaurant that served as their headquarters.
“We had a little room that we met in with this really long table where we’d have our meetings” Willson says. “It was great.”
Subsequently, Willson also helped start The Beaches Professional Women’s Network and a Beaches business networking group over the last decade-and-a-half. Willson credits the various networks she’s involved with as invaluable toward connecting with the local community and growing Advance Approaches to Massage Therapy into the thriving business it is today. Further, at the bustling annual Kingston Road Village Artwalk and Street Festival in June, Willson opens her clinic’s doors to the public and holds ‘Ask The Expert’ sessions. Willson usually has a massage chair set up at the front of the clinic, where anyone can receive a quick treatment and learn more about the bodywork therapies she and her staff offer to treat treat their individual health issues.
Su providing a treatment at the clinic. Photo by Dave Carpenter
A handpicked team:
Willson employs a team of handpicked, highly-skilled therapists, trained in various modalities and treatments that focused on deep-tissue work; these include Shiatsu, Thai massage, and energy-based work such as Reiki, a Japanese-based alternative medicine aimed at promoting both physical and emotional healing.
At the end of the day, Su strives to create a welcoming and positive space for her clients first and foremost.
“It’s all about connecting,” she says. “With the community and our clients.”
“Part of my Dharma is connecting with people in the neighborhood. I really feel that strongly. I really love it. I just believe in it. “
Treatment room at Advanced Approaches to Massage. Photo Dave Carpenter.