By Jasmine Shaw
For the Birmingham Times
Lemar Storey, founder of Life Touch Massage LLC, has a perspective that he believes can bring people together—an idea that many may not have considered.
“The lack of touch in our society has caused an increase in violent behavior, negative attitudes, and distant relationships,” he said. “I believe touch is the healing element we all need in our lives to bring us closer as human beings. We all need love, and it’s my mission to spread that love.”
The 39-year-old Fairfield native founded Life Touch Massage LLC in 2006 to combat the growing touch-deficit plaguing society, he said.
“People are literally afraid of being touched,” Storey said. “Either they may be afraid of how their body may react to touch or they have had a traumatic experience with touch in their lives that has been hard to overcome. I tell everyone that visits us [downtown Birmingham] that Life Touch is a no-judgment zone. I think they find comfort in that.
“At Life Touch, we believe touch is a means of connection, an avenue to share love, and a tool to facilitate growth. We believe in the connect-love-and-grow concept. We treat everyone that comes to us like family, and we accept all people.”
“Beneficial to My Health”
Those are the qualities that attracted business owner Adrienne Starks to Life Touch Massage.
“Sometimes you carry the stress of the day, of the week from work in your body, and you don’t always get an opportunity to have time for yourself. … With Life Touch, in particular, they pay a lot of attention to where you may have a lot of tightness and tension, as well as stress knots,” said Starks. “I go because I like the atmosphere . . . I always leave feeling better than when I walked in.”
Starks, owner of the nonprofit Stream Innovations, has visited Life Touch for about four years. She was introduced to massage therapy when she met Storey at an event where he and his team were giving chair massages.
“I was very pleased with the results of the corporate chair massage and came in for a session,” she said. “Since then, I can always tell I’m relaxed, and my shoulders are where they should be. … While I’m on the table getting a massage, I feel as if I’m really caring for my body, getting work done that is really beneficial to my health.”
Another Life Touch client, Andrea Foster, has been with the therapists for about nine years, since she was pregnant with her first child.
“The atmosphere is very welcoming and professional, but the other thing I like about it is the familiar faces and [the fact that] it’s our culture. It’s something that is for us, by us—and that’s really rare to find in the spa industry, especially in Birmingham,” she said. “I like that we can talk about certain issues that we may not feel comfortable talking with someone else about. I think that is unique.”
Living the Stressed Life
Storey spent 13 years honing his craft at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa before venturing out to create a space where he could freely celebrate massage therapy as an art form.
“I tell all of my  employees and contractors to just be human,” he said. “That means be sympathetic and empathetic; laugh, cry, and connect with people to build genuine relationships.”
After starting off as a mobile service that provided home and office massages, Storey settled into a brick-and-mortar location in downtown Birmingham in March 2017. His service list has expanded, as well, to include Swedish, deep-tissue, and hot-stone massage, along with specialty services, such as lymphatic drainage, Thai yoga, and sports and cupping massage.
Storey takes his passion a step further by co-hosting the “Living the Stressed Life” podcast with his wife, Tiffany. Launched in January 2018, the weekly discussions focus on pertinent issues, including how to recession-proof your life and the impact of stress on sexual intimacy, to help busy professionals find peace in spite of life’s stressors.
Growing up in a large, tight-knit family in Fairfield with two siblings allowed Storey to find value in the strength of relationships and learn to identify opportunities for economic growth by meeting the needs of his community. He has one brother, Jon Storey Jr., and one sister, Tracy Cummings. His family was resourceful and selfless when it came to helping one another.
Because his parents worked a lot, Storey spent time with his aunt, uncle, and cousins growing up, acting more as one big unit than two separate families. This attitude led his family to be very kind and respectful to one another, understanding that relationships are only as strong as your actions allow them to be.
Storey and his siblings noticed that many of their neighbors were dealing with diabetes and heart disease. His sister, in particular, was disturbed by the lack of healthy restaurant options available in Fairfield, so she turned her passion for cooking into a catering business—Tracy’s Tasty Arrangements—that allows her to both educate and provide healthier options to her community.
Similarly, when Storey observed violence and aggression among some of his peers, he realized that many of those behaviors were a result of dealing with the stress that poverty can inflict. So, when he got into massage therapy, he made it his mission to bring the ability to relax and feel less tense back to his community.
Storey’s work ethic stems from his mother, Betty, who was known for taking on extra jobs and shifts to help the family make ends meet. He learned the fundamentals of resiliency from his father, John Sr., who continued to work as an auto mechanic after being injured in a car accident that left him with limited mobility.
Storey attended Berea College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in child and family studies in 2002. He then went to Virginia College, where he earned an associate degree in massage therapy in 2004.
“My mother and father taught me a lot about making sure we did everything we could to make sure our family had food and shelter,” Storey said. “I will forever love them both for instilling those values in me.”
Storey held down a part-time job as a cashier while serving as the vice president of his fraternity, Alpha Kappa Nu, at Fairfield High School. While those roles helped shape his views toward leadership, the mindset of family members sparked his interest in entrepreneurship.
“My brother and my uncle, Westley Washington, own a flooring business: Washington Unlimited Services,” he said. “My sister … has her catering business, Tracy’s Tasty Arrangements, and a real estate development company, TPT Investors LLC. These are the people who inspired my entrepreneurial journey.”
For Storey, Life Touch Massage is a way to help diversify holistic health care options in an underserved community. Recognizing that 70 percent of people who benefit from massages are mostly white, he and his team of 10 encourage minorities to seek out the benefits of massage for chronic stress, pain, and depression.
“We have changed the perception that black people don’t get massages,” Storey said. “As a matter of fact, we have a 70 percent black clientele. This is very important in our community because we know that stress leads to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression.”
Still, there have been challenges. Storey admits to being overlooked and underestimated by investors and colleagues, so he must find ways to obtain enough capital to grow his business, retain employees, and compete with major spas in town.
“I constantly get denied opportunities just because of my race and gender,” he said. “In this profession, it’s more difficult for black men to get taken seriously, especially when it comes to corporate events and contracts. I’ve even been told by a trusted white male entrepreneur that I should enlist my wife to go after corporate contracts. It’s an unfortunate reality for a lot of black men in this field.”
Storey relies on the wisdom of his wife, mentors, and a group of local business owners called Urban Masterminds United to help him stay focused and to point out areas of concern. Understanding that running a business requires making lots of tough decisions has allowed him to become more assertive and accountable for his actions.
“I’ve learned to take things day by day, building the right relationships and connections to make my goals attainable,” Storey said. “I would like to open multiple locations, so Life Touch Massage can become a household name. I want to build urban wellness centers in black communities throughout Alabama and beyond.”
While faith is the determining factor for Storey’s decisions, he encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to start small and learn all about their industry and customer.
“Figure out your break-even points with different scenarios (i.e., working from home, renting space, etc.). Then, when you’re ready, drop everything else and dive into your business,” he said.
For more information about Life Touch Massage LLC, visit www.lifetouchal.com, follow on Facebook @Life Touch Massage, or call 205-718-5144.
Birmingham Times staff writer Erica Wright contributed to this story.