Portland’s professional huggers close business

Hug Me opened in 2013 as a door-to-door service for platonic hugs, but after nine years and thousands of meetings, Samantha Hess called it quits.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Samantha Hess just divorced her high school sweetheart. At 28, when she started dating for the first time as an adult, she realized that the only touches that were offered to her were romantic ones.

“I realized what I really needed was a hug. I just needed a hug,” Hess said.

In 2013, she had an idea; a business idea to offer hugs or hugs to complete strangers seeking the same platonic touch.

“I started posting on social media and telling my friends and they all told me I was going to die and that terrible things were going to happen to me,” Hess said.

Her business is called “Hugging Me”. She developed her business idea, signed waivers for clients, and met her first clients within six months. Business is going well.

“Two weeks before my first appointment, and then within six months, I have two months to get an appointment. The demand is so huge,” Hess said.

“Hug Me” originally started as an outpatient service type.

“I would go to people’s homes, movie theaters and many parks to meet. People looking for that kind of service are not scary or dangerous. I’ve never ended a party early. People are very nice and respectful,” Hess said. “People never had a chance. Going to the movies with people who aren’t their family, it’s nice to have the opportunity to snuggle up next to someone and watch a movie. “

Within a year, she realized the need was greater than she could do on her own. She opened her first storefront office in 2014, hiring employees and training them in the art of embracing using a training program she created herself.

RELATED: Portland woman is a ‘professional hugger’

Hess’ unique business idea made national headlines almost immediately and even caught the attention of the producers of “America’s Got Talent.” She flew out for an audition, hugged host Nick Cannon on stage, then was brought back and hugged with guest judge Neil Patrick Harris before getting four Xs and not moving on.

“I like the stupidity of this work. I like to think of it as the work of the inner child,” Hess said.

Hess, a self-described extrovert, loves her job. Then came the pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit, it destroyed my world,” Hess said of the isolation and lack of engagement she was able to give or take.

As a way to connect with clients, she makes a virtual gaze video. Hess met outdoors, sat apart in the park, then moved indoors and opened the windows as restrictions began to ease.

Her business shrunk from 4,000 square feet of retail space to a studio office of less than 100 square feet.

RELATED: Professional hugger’s business booms

After more than 3,200 sessions, ranging in duration from 30 minutes to five hours and costing anywhere from $80 to $100 an hour, Hess packed up her tiny office and closed Hug Me.

“This business has really taught me a lot. I’m going to start crying now,” she said, wiping away tears. “I think the biggest lesson for me is that when I take the time to actually meet people and get to know them, everyone I meet is worth loving.”

After nine years of reaching out to people and their lives and just listening, it’s time to move on.

“There’s a price to be paid to witnessing nine years of unending suffering and tragedy,” she said. “I really saw a lifetime of trauma and made room for people to go through things I didn’t even know could happen.”

Hess said she would now take the time to listen to herself. Her plans include writing a second book.

“It sucks that I had to leave this, it’s about time. It’s about time,” Hess said.

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