Cape Woman Perseveres Through Homelessness To Own Two Businesses

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Business

Angela Thornton. COURTESY PHOTO

Of late a spotlight has been focused on whether or not it’s worthwhile to encourage young people to remain on the Cape — particularly if they grew up here.

“A lot of young people hate it here and it makes me cry,” says Angela Thornton, owner and founder of Artisan Skin Care and Artisan Organics in Orleans and Chatham.

Thornton, 38, who grew up in Yarmouth, offers a case in point. A successful entrepreneur, Thornton now owns and operates two businesses — a spa and shop in Orleans and a brand new storefront where she sells her own organic skincare products in Chatham. But her story is one of perseverance over great odds. For a time, over a decade ago, she was homeless.

Thornton is technically a “washashore” because she came to the Cape at age 10. A resident of West Yarmouth, she graduated from Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in 1999.

Thornton trained at Blaine Beauty School in Hyannis (now Empire Beauty School) and was at first working as a hairdresser making good money. But “I wasn’t feeling the connection,” she says. She retooled her career by training in holistic aesthetics with “holistic healing practitioners from around the globe — Russia to Japanese, East coast to West coast, U.K. and U.S.,” as she writes on her website.

She is of Native American descent, and early on her grandfather taught her his knowledge of the garden. As he tutored her in what was good for a bellyache, what was good for eating, she garnered an appreciation of nature and botanicals.

As a child, she was misdiagnosed with asthma, and put on “heavy doses of steroids” that made her ill. She eventually located a holistic doctor and traded work around his office for training in holistic therapies. She has incorporated all of this knowledge into her career and has been a licensed aesthetician for over 17 years now.

Yet in the midst of working on her career, she suffered a period of homelessness and ended up sleeping in her car, showering at the gym.

“Unfortunately, I ran into bad luck financially and I was homeless,” she says. Was it frightening to sleep in her car? “It depended on the neighborhood. I would find well-lit parking lots, that kind of thing.”

She describes her former situation as “definitely homeless, but not down-for-the-count homeless.”

Yet despite being homeless, she always had a job, was always working, for a time at Chatham Bars Inn, a situation that illustrates how the Cape’s expensive housing stock can shut out even people who are employed.

“It was really hard. I had an opportunity to move off-Cape but I believed I could still make it on the Cape,” she says.

In 2008 she saw an ad in the paper that Exteriors Skin Care, a 15-year-old business at 195 Route 6A in Orleans, was up for sale. In April 2008, the year of the economic recession, of all years, she bought the business. She says she had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the owner regarding the purchase. She was able to pay small amounts, the equivalent of car payments, toward acquiring the business. With the help of her husband David, whom she married in 2014, and her in-laws, she did extensive renovations to the business’s floors, walls, lights — just about every aspect of the interior of the building. Her days of sleeping in her car were behind her.

Thornton has now run the business for nearly 11 years, and last summer she opened her second location, a retail store in Chatham at 400 Main, up at the quiet end of Main Street, where the street becomes residential. Four years ago, she developed her own organic skin care line, and it became popular. So when she saw an opportunity to sell her product out of a “small little nook” in Chatham, she took it.

In Orleans, Thornton performs “holistic facials.” By holistic she means “using what nature intended.” The first question she will ask a new client is if she is allergic to anything. “A lot of the time people come to me because they don’t want synthetic products” that may make their skin flare with dermatitis or acne, she says. Thornton’s skin care products contain “real ingredients from nature to encourage your natural beauty,” her website states.

She says it takes longer to establish a clientele in aesthetics than in hairdressing. Yet now she has a clientele that keeps her working almost all the time and she is booked about 10 days out for some treatments, even in the off-season.

Thornton’s website contains pages and pages of five-star reviews. “I loved Angie’s work on my brows!” a client named Jillian wrote last June. “I hadn’t had them done in forever and she cleaned them right up.” Sarah, who lives five minutes from Artisan, wrote in August that the Artisan Deluxe Facial was “the best 90 minutes of my vacation.” While the deluxe facial costs $155, other facials are less expensive. A 30-minute “Artisan Mini Facial” is $75. Thornton also tints eyelashes and eyebrows with a vegetable tint. “Great for blonde lashes, vacations, weddings and the gym!”

The organic product line includes cleansing oils, soaps, exfoliants, healing oils, toners and hydrosol.

For more information on the spa and skin care products, visit