The Radiance Story
by Joli Sandoz
An herb named Self-Heal graces Radiance’s anniversary T-shirt, as clients and staff celebrate 20 years in the Olympia community. Self-healing, service and a special energy more thanone former owner describes as “pure” have focused the local store’s mission since the doors first opened in July, 1975.
Dee Ann (Wynia) Williams started Radiance with Sheila Marsh. She credits Sheila, a massage practitioner, with the idea of “a place for people to heal themselves through massage and through herbs.”
While turning thesaurus pages one evening, both women recognized the word “radiance” as a perfect fit with their plans. Then on a loan so small Dee Ann can’t remember today whether it was $1,000 or $2,000, the new business owners rented two rooms above Childhood’s End Gallery on 4th Avenue in downtown Olympia.
Stripping and painting the cracked and peeling walls kept the pair busy at first, as did two carpentry projects. Radiance’s first massage clients rested on a table Sheila and Dee Ann built themselves. Although few customers knew it, the pair also installed a buzzer which, if pushed, would sound down the hall behind the Mansion Glass desk. Therapeutic massage in 1975 didn’t enjoy the public acceptance it has today; clients sometimes expected extras the Radiance staff were not prepared to give. Dee Ann says the buzzer, although never used, gave them confidence as they worked to create a reputation focused on healing.
A community of customers and volunteers soon gathered around the store, enabling Dee Ann to keep the business going when Sheila moved on. Although she vividly recalls the exhaustion of working 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Radiance and then a 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift as a cocktail waitress, Dee Ann says that in those early years, as now, “you felt really good there. There was a lot of care, a lot of love. Radiance was a very giving place.”
Dee Ann decided to attend acupuncture school on the east coast in 1977, starting a tradition of Radiance staff who have stayed connected to healing after leaving the store. She sold Radiance to Janice Leighton. Janice and business partner Peggy Goldberg moved the store down to street level, hiring two woman carpenters to turn one big room next to the Rainbow Restaurant (now Clancey’s Columbia Street Pub) into two massage spaces, a retail space and storage. An old barn Radiance staff tore down provided wood for partitions and paneling.
Radiance’s new visibility and the public’s developing awareness of the benefits of therapeutic massage gradually enabled the store to begin turning a small profit. Janice and Peggy worked to expand the retail side of the business. Dee Ann had started with a single rack of herbs; the new owners added body care products and blends of herb teas made up in the store. Peggy, who oversaw much of the buying, says today that a favorite memory of those years is of “coming home at the end of the day smelling like herbs because I’d spent hours pouring them into jars.”
Both Peggy and Janice warmly recall the special Radiance feeling. “Radiance was a happening thing,” according to the latter. “I was really pleased to be able to tap into that energy there. . . . And I’m just thrilled that energy has just gone on [today].” Peggy agrees. “I fell in love with Radiance the first time I walked in. . . . I didn’t know a lot of women-owned businesses then, and it was a women-centered place which definitely didn’t exclude men. Very healing. Carolyn [ the next owner Carolyn McIntyre] has made it a profitable business but kept the healing attitude, too.”
Radiance massage therapist Kay Uhl bought Janice’s share in 1981 because the store’s special feeling “fit right into my own dream. . . . It was just like an oasis of calm and healing.” The dark, casual atmosphere created by the store’s small size and recycled barn paneling created a unique ambiance. Kay learned the strength of customers’ link to Radiance when she and Peggy installed formica countertops and wall-to-wall carpeting, actions which sparked, she notes now, “mixed reactions.” But business continued to grow; the store’s part-time staff swelled to six, and the product selection expanded to include Radiance-packaged soaps, lotions, shampoos and massage oils plus a few perfumes and essential oils.
Carolyn’s memory of Radiance as it was when she and Barbara (Park) St. Dennis purchased the store in 1983 includes a few more items. “We had three shelves of books mostly bodywork, herbalism and health-related titles. The bulk herb rack had expanded to about 100 jars, about half medicinal and half herbal teas and culinary spices. Muscle charts, reflexology posters and other information could be found rolled up and rubber-banded in a wooden barrel on the floor.”
Carolyn was the first owner to bring previous business experience with her to Radiance. She handled numbers and paperwork while Barbara, an experienced herbalist and healer, ran the front of the store. In the first five months of their partnership, Radiance did more business than in the previous twelve.
Today Barbara remembers Radiance as a “spiritual experience/experiment.” “I knew a spirit, a deva, an energy, had come to Radiance, probably because of the real pure energy workers had brought to the store” over the years, she says. “Radiance as I understood it had been intended as a life-center, a place for alternative medicines and supplies, and for massage.”
Barbara felt particularly drawn to the pure intentions of Radiance staff, and recalls praying that the money to buy the store should come in a “bright-shining way.” She mentioned her dreams while leading a Radiance herb walk one day, and a participant offered to loan Carolyn and Barbara the money. The trio met at the Rainbow Restaurant, where patrons stared as they counted out a small pile of shining gold coins.
Barbara expanded the Radiance stock to include tinctures and herb formulas among many other products. She worked with staff members Kit Ashera and Shoshana Frieden to introduce flower essences to Olympia customers. Radiance also began to diversify, adding natural stones and jewelry and moving into home environment and gift items. Business Continued to grow.
When Barbara decided to return to a focus on her own healing practice in 1986, Carolyn became the keeper of the vision at Radiance. She spent the year getting to know the store and its products better, and working more directly with Radiance staff and customers. The move from behind a desk meant personal risking and growth, representing as it did a new phase in Carolyn’s relationship to the store. As sole owner in 1987, she took another big risk: on March 3, Radiance opened for business in its much-larger present location on 5th street.
Radiance owners, in the words of one former manager, “lay the foundation but the rest of the staff builds the store.” Kerri Merrill came to Radiance in 1990 with 11 years of administrative experience with Fredrick and Nelson and the goal of “helping people, men and women of all desires and ways of life, learn to take responsibility for their own healing and self care.” She and the Radiance staff worked hard to create interactive, educational window displays and to teach customers about the store’s products. The point, she notes, was not to bring big-time commercial retailing to Radiance, but to emphasize that “what we do to ourselves environmentally and spiritually makes a difference.”
Today fifteen employees staff Radiance, and an additional sixteen massage therapists, one acupuncturist and an esthetician practice there. Expansion/remodels in 1990 and 1995 expanded the store to its present size. Radiance herbalist Carol Trasatto likes the way Radiance works. “It first appealed to me as a visitor to town. I could tell from the book shelf that there was serious intention here,” she says. As employees “we take the concept of holistic approach to wellness seriously, and feel a responsibility about the products. We don’t jump on fads; Radiance sells herbs and products which have a long history of use.” Given a choice, Carol adds, she stocks “ethically wild crafted and organically cultivated herbs. We pay close attention to the quality of what we’re getting.” In the Radiance tradition of educating customers, Carol is available in the store on Thursday and Friday afternoons to help people find resources and to answer questions about specific herbs.
Current owners Karin Olsen and Andrea Seabert bought the business in October 2005 from Carolyn. Since then their mission has been to maintain the integrity of what has been laid down by prior owners. They are grateful for the solid foundation and excited for the future. “We intend to be good stewards of Radiance”.