by Hope Katz Gibbs
WITH AN UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE IN art history, Tony Mazlish ’86 didn’t set out to be in the back business. He fell into it, quite literally. While moving into a group house after graduation, he jumped to the ground from the bed of a Ryder truck while holding a boxed television set.
“I heard something go snap,” says Mazlish, noting it didn’t really hurt at first. “It started as a twinge, but the pain kept getting worse and worse. Within six months, I had gone to several doctors, but none of them could really help me.”
He kept searching for ways to ease the pain, but found few.
In the meantime, he was working as a second grade teacher for a year, and later in the marketing department of the American Soccer League. But in 1989, he decided to return to graduate school and a year later had earned an M.B.A. from Georgetown University.
He took a job with the Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund as an investment analyst, where he spent most of his day sitting at a desk. His back wasn’t happy.
“It started acting up again, and in searching for a comfortable chair,” he says, “I discovered a store that catered to back pain sufferers. Hm, I thought. That’s a great idea.”
He started doing his own research on what else was available—traveling to “Back Designs” in San Francisco and the “Better Back Store” in Denver, in addition to similar shops in New Jersey and Philadelphia. Mazlish then put together a business plan to create a similar—but more original—store, and started looking for investors. By late 1993, he had gathered $184,000 from twelve investors.
He opened his first Healthy Back Store in Washington, D.C. the following year. Throughout the shop are ergonomic desk chairs, comfy leather recliners, and several queen-sized Temper-medic mattresses designed by NASA engineers to reduce pressure on astronauts during takeoff (it sells for $1,299). There are also videos that teach proper stretching, posture, and back exercises, as well as a full line of massage tools.
But the most unique part of the store is the massage therapists, who for periods of 10, 15, and 20 minutes give weary shoppers a fully clothed seated massage (for $1 per minute). Lawyers, accountants, and government workers out for a quick lunch in DC stop by for transformative relaxation sessions.
“Because of the high degree of stress in a city like Washington, The Healthy Back Store has become a go-to place,” says Mazlish, who in the last years has opened similar stores in 6 suburbs around DC. “Nearly everyone I know has back problems. It’s a lot of fun being in a business where I help people feel better.”