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ioc logo120There are a lot of places in Ithaca to get a massage.  But until this summer there were almost no options to get a massage to come to you.  That is what Ithaca On Call offers: whether you live in town or are visiting and staying in a hotel or B&B a few clicks on a Web site is all it takes to schedule and pay by credit card.  Then all that's left is to open the door when your massage therapist shows up.

"I know that Tompkins County gets just shy of a million visitors a year," says Ithaca On Call owner Sarah Robarge.  "So it seemed like we had a real need for a welcoming service for these B&Bs and hotels and all the guest residences.  And much to my surprise there wasn't one single mobile massage service -- that I know of.  I just wanted to give people that come here what I look for when I travel to other places and make it easy."

Robarge got the idea from her own extensive travels.  A body worker herself, she says the first thing she does when she arrives in another country is to seek out a massage to relieve the stress of a long plane or car ride and mitigate jet lag.  The idea of a business that makes getting a massage convenient really hit home when she went to Ubud, Indonesia.

"It's a world renowned spiritual healing center," she says.  "I thought when I got there that I was going to track down these experts. What I ended up doing was going with the people that were working next door, because it was easy.  That's what I'd like to do with this service.  To welcome people to Tompkins County and provide a way to connect them here and make them feel at home, and make it easy and accessible and affordable.

Her first body work job was out-call massage therapy, going to hotels, homes and B&Bs.  She says that when she retired from professional mobile massage it left kind of  void in the market.  Concierges from hotels and people who wanted out-call massage therapy would call on a fairly regular basis to find a therapist to do out-call massage.

"I had a stack of peoples' business cards from my rolfing practice," she says.  W"hen people would call asking for someone to come to them I would give them referrals.  About a year ago it occurred to me that would make a really great business.  And so far so good."

Ithaca On call is Robarge's second body work business.  She has a successful rolfing business, Robarge Certified Rolfers™, with her husband Brian.  And while she is also certified in massage, her role in the new business is to provide work for the six massage therapists she employs.

"When I started talking to people about doing professional mobile massage everybody said, 'well you're going to get somebody killed.'," she says.  "We did a lot of marketing research and talked to a lot of insurance companies.  We had a really lovely discussion with the Ithaca Police Department.  There's really no enhanced risk for massage risks for massage therapists' personal safety.  There's just as much risk for plumbers or pizza delivery guys  or anybody that comes to peoples' homes.  But just to make sure that people are legitimately looking for professional massage we ask them to register their credit card with us."

Despite the youth of the business she is growing it in leaps and bounds.  She is already adding two more massage therapists, and says she hopes to have about a dozen by January.  The service only serves the 14850 area code so far, but Robarge says she hopes to expand that in the next six months.  She is also thinking other on-call services she can offer like hair styling, facials or nails.

ioc robargeSarah Robarge

Originally from Unadilla Forks, Robarge's dream was to be an Olympic equestrian.  When she was ten a professional riding facility opened near home.  

"I hung out there so much that eventually they had to give me a job," she says.  "My introduction to body work was body work for horses.  It quickly turned into wanting to be a veterinarian.  I quickly discovered that I didn't like medicine.  So I started studying genetics.  Soon I met my husband, and in my senior year I got pregnant with my first child."

Her second child was born with a neurological delay that required a lot of care.  Robarge wanted a flexible job that paid well so she could be there for her son.  Remembering how much she enjoyed being a horse body worker, she enrolled in  Finger Lakes School of Massage and quickly fell in love with human body work.

Students who come to Tompkins County and Ithaca tend to fall in love with the place, and many of them stay.  That includes students at the Finger Lakes School of Massage, with the result that you can barely walk down the street without tripping over a massage therapist.  Robarge says she once estimated that there is one body worker for every 300 permanent Ithaca residents.  Of course that impacts the job market.

"I really love providing a venue for other massage therapists to just do massage therapy," she says.  "Most of the massage therapists I know do massage on the side and have a job doing something they don't want to do.  So to be able to give them meaningful employment in their chosen career, and help launch careers as well, has been very meaningful for me."

Customers can schedule ahead, or even the same day using the Web site.  Signing up on the site and registering a credit card is the only way to schedule at the moment.  The current menu of services includes Swedish or Deep Tissue Massage in 30, 60, 90, or 120 minute sessions, including back-to-back or couples massage.  Soon you receive a confirmation email and a massage therapist comes to you.  Your credit card is charged after the massage.

"I love Ithaca -- it has always felt a little bit more like home to me than home has," Robarge says.  "That's part of why I like doing what I do.  When people arrive and can get relaxed and pampered it makes them feel more settled in Ithaca, like they're more at home.  I can't get enough of that."

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