Like many industries, massage services were hit hard by COVID-19 closings. Forced to shut down in March, direct-contact services such as massage weren’t allowed, by Illinois guidelines, to reopen until the end of May, and then with very strict guidelines in place.

For Soleful Massage, 7616 Madison St., those few months of closure had a significant financial impact. Even now, business is slow since not all customers are certain that such personal services are safe.

Owner Coco Zhang, whose nickname comes from the famous perfume, has owned Soleful Massage for three years. Since reopening after the COVID shutdown, she said her sanitization and cleaning procedures are even more stringent than they were pre-COVID.

Prior to the pandemic, Zhang was meticulous about cleaning everything. The washer and dryer in the back run constantly, washing loads of towels and sheets from the massage tables. Surfaces were regularly cleaned and sanitized.

Now, though, she’s made sure she’s taking cleaning ever more seriously. Customers are asked not to come if they have a fever or any signs of illness. An infrared forehead thermometer is used to take everyone’s temperature when they enter. Masks are required by clients and employees at all times, and Zhang keeps extra masks on hand in case a customer doesn’t have one. And, of course, all towels and bedding are changed and washed between customers.

Additionally, rooms are sanitized regularly, including wiping down the walls, doors, and beds. Floors are mopped daily.

What makes Zhang’s services unique is the blend of eastern and western traditions she brings to the art of massage. Born and raised in China, she studied and worked in massage there for years, honing her skills and methods. When she came to America, she needed a license to practice, so she learned western techniques and rules as well.

A personal relationship with clients is what Zhang strives for, and many customers become regulars, allowing Zhang and her other providers to get to know their preferences. But even newcomers to massage will feel comfortable at Soleful Massage.

Zhang strives to make each customer feel at ease as an individual, making sure she asks if a client wants a deep, medium or light massage. Or if the towels are too hot. Cleanliness is her top concern, so she makes sure all areas, especially massage rooms, are spotless and inviting.

The salon offers a variety of services, from just a foot massage to a full body massage. Some of the rooms have discreet bars above the massage tables so therapists can support themselves from above while walking on a client’s back, if desired. Hot stone treatment is available, and the salon has two rooms for couples’ massages. Prices range from $10 for a 10-minute chair massage up to $170 for a 90-minute couples’ massage.