After fire destroys her business, Karen Anne begins again, bolstered by friends, family and her faith

By on June 11, 2018
Karen Anne Lowenguth has been a licensed massage therapist for 18 years, the last three of them in Spencerport until a disastrous fire in April this year. She sits in the waiting room of her new facility under renovation at 31 Clinton Street in Brockport, expected to open in the near future. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

Karen Anne Lowenguth has been a licensed massage therapist for 18 years, the last three of them in Spencerport until a disastrous fire in April this year. She sits in the waiting room of her new facility under renovation at 31 Clinton Street in Brockport, expected to open in the near future. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

Karen Anne Lowenguth has been in practice as a licensed massage therapist for 18 years. She moved “Karen Anne’s Therapeutic Massage” from her hometown of Hilton to Spencerport’s Barefoot Landing Plaza over three years ago. On Friday, April 6, her first appointment was at 11 a.m., so she turned off her cell phone, planning to sleep in. “I got up at 8 o’clock, turned on my phone, and all of a sudden it boots up,” she said, wondering, “Why do I have 20 text messages, that’s unreal?”  She first checked her neighbor Theresa’s message, reading, “I am sorry for your loss; praying for you!” Karen texted back asking if she had the right person and what was she talking about. The reply: “Don’t you know, your plaza’s on fire?”

That shock started Karen on an emotional and spiritual journey through the trauma of a devastating loss of her business. The journey includes reflection on God’s plan for her, a slow purposeful recovery still under way, and the “patience of Job.” That journey began when she started professionally, and includes her interrupted plan, grieving her loss, people who helped her, and, finally, focusing on herself for recovery.

Spencerport office like “home”

Karen uses “Karen Anne” as a business name and says her friends call her “Karen.”  She received her license from the Finger Lakes School of Massage in Ithaca. She lived in Hilton where she first set up her practice. When her lease was up, she moved to Spencerport in February, 2015, intending to stay there until retirement. “Spencerport was very good to me. I met a lot of wonderful clients there,” she said, adding that about 95 percent of clients from Hilton had followed her to the new location.

“My office was not just an office,” she said, “It was like a home to my clients in a way.” Her office was essentially a waiting room with her desk in it and the treatment room out of sight down the hall.  “When you entered, you never felt like you were walking into a clinic or a doctor’s office. It was homey, welcoming.  There were comfortable chairs, tea, nice calming music. It was very personal, filled with my special things, memorabilia, antiques. My clients would say it’s like walking into a friend’s house.”  When she completed a continuing education class, she would hang the certificate artistically on the wall to show clients she was active in the profession.

To God: “Did you really have to go to this extreme?”

After receiving the text message, “Don’t you know, your plaza’s on fire?” Karen turned on the TV news and saw the fire. “Part of me was in denial and I didn’t want to go and see it,” she said, until her brother Steve Lowenguth said, “You need to go for closure.”  As Karen tells it:

I pulled myself together, drove down there and I was devasted; there was nothing left.  For the next week and a half, I was just not myself, I was very depressed.  I am generally a pretty strong person. I can get through a lot of things and move forward. But, with this, God really pushed me outside my box. He really had a plan; I just didn’t see it, didn’t understand it, and I said, ‘Did you really have to go to this extreme?’  I was attached to those personal things and had a lot of money invested in my practice. For a couple of weeks, I couldn’t think straight. I had nightmares. If I woke up at night, my first thought was the fire.  I would be driving someplace and think, ‘I will stop at my office and check on … Oh, I can’t … there is no office.’ It took me a long time to just let go.

A providential purchase

Karen’s new location is 31 Clinton Street in Brockport. “This place fell in my lap at about the same time as the move to Spencerport,” she said. It was purchased as an investment with her boyfriend of 22 years, Dale Robinson. “Dale and my brother Steve were wonderful through all of this.  Between the two of them they pulled this place together to rent out as offices, neutralizing it so it did not look like a beauty salon anymore.”  Before the work was done on the Brockport facility, the fire occurred in the Spencerport plaza. Now, the Brockport building will become her permanent business location. “He really had a plan; I just didn’t see it, didn’t understand it,” she said about her protest to God for going to “this extreme.”

A base of support: friends, family, church

“The biggest support I have comes from Dale, my father Bob Lowenguth, my brother Steve, Pastor Jim Fox and my church family at the Living Hope Assembly of God,” Karen said, adding, “I receive a lot of great support in texts and cards from clients and friends.”

“Dale has never pushed me to get back to work. He has just been there for me; he has been my rock. A week after the fire, Dale threw me a surprise ‘cheer-me-up party,’” Karen said. He proposed a “date night” which they did not have for a while.  Starting the date, he said he forgot to turn out the lights after working on the building.   They stopped in and, “All the lights were on, tables were set up with balloons and food, then everyone jumped out shouting, ‘Surprise!’ ” she said.

Generous support also came from a chiropractor with whom she had mutually referred clients. “Dr Scott Coykendall generously offered me space for free as long as I needed it,” she said. “I did not take him up on it. I was not mentally or emotionally ready to start again for a good month.”

Before starting up, “I need time for me right now.”

That lack of readiness to start up right away is clear to Karen as she imagines clients coming in and innocently asking, “What happened? How are you doing?” “I would have to relive that several times a day, five days a week, for the next six weeks,” she said. I was not ready for that and did not want to talk about it. I feel a little guilty because I was not there for my clients, but if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to take care of them. I need time for me right now.”

Her time is filled with settling insurance claims and working to bring the property up to code for the Village’s Certificate of Occupancy. With that certificate, Karen will do what she calls a “soft opening,” and start to see a few people.  She looks forward to some of her former clients returning and new ones from Brockport starting. She estimates it will take until April next year to know who her regular clients will be. With some unknowns ahead, she is optimistic. “I wasn’t planning to move here.  But, when the fire happened, and once I got my head together, I saw this as a great opportunity. The Lord provided; he made it available.  And, He has been blessing me by surrounding me with good people, love and understanding.”

Note: For a Westside News report and photos on the Barefoot Landing Plaza fire, go to http://www.westsidenewsny.com/news/2018-04-09/fire-at-barefoot-landing-in-spencerport/)

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