By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer
A week ago I posted about the massage business situation in Chicago regarding zoning. Unfortunately my information was out of date and inaccurate. So I apologize profusely for anyone that read my blog post and celebrated this incorrect info.
Here is what happened. I’ve been monitoring the city’s movement on the zoning issue since it was first proposed in the Zoning Committee. The only news I had heard recently about the proposed change to zoning of massage businesses by the city of Chicago was on City Clout blog which said that on June 6, the Amendment to zoning for massage businesses passed. I went digging through the City Council web page and could not find anything about the amending to zoning changing. The only document I could find was what turned out to be minutes from changes made to the Massage Establishment Act in 2007. At that time, in 2007, Chicago City Council had done a really fantastic job of updating the massage establishment ordinance and made no changes to zoning. I called the Zoning Department last week and the City Business Affairs division and was told no changes were made to zoning of massage businesses. I inaccurately reported that the changes to massage business zoning were not made. But, as I later found out from a representative from the AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association), changes WERE made–they city council had simply not yet communicated the changes to the Zoning and Business Affairs division, nearly a month after the changes were voted in during City Council’s June 9th meeting.
Once I found out my post was in error, I removed my post from my blog, made phone calls to alderman’s offices and dug deeper into the city’s website. I was able to find out that the proposed amendment to the city’s zoning code DID indeed PASS as it was originally proposed, meaning it restricts new massage businesses to C districts. Now any new massage business that wants to operate in the City of Chicago must locate their business in a C district. What is a C district? A business zone relegated to used car lots, warehouses and industrial corridors. IF the new massage business applies for special use approval and receives approval, they may be able to locate in a B3 district. A B3 district is a district that allows for body piercing shops, taverns, liquor stores and “auto-oriented” commercial use. (Meaning you need to drive up to a massage business in a more commercial neighborhood, not walk to the massage business in your neighborhood.)
The Downside of this Zoning Change
• Any new Massage Business that wants to open in Chicago is now relegated to areas with bars, used car lots, storage warehouse and industrial corridors. So, in effect the city council is saying, any new massage therapy business is considered a house of prostitution and, even if it’s not, it’s too hard to enforce existing regulations so we are just going to limit where these businesses can set up shop.
Sadly, this zoning change actually benefits prostitution much more than anyone else. Why? Because businesses that are actually houses of prostitution masquerading as massage businesses will do far better in these isolated districts than a legit massage business would do. At first glance, it almost seems as though the Chicago City Council wants to promote prostitution, doesn’t it?
However, after watching video footage of the City Council vote on the zoning amendment, I think what is happening is actually more about confusion and ignorance of the massage profession among some Council members. If you watch the ten-minute video I link to below, you will see Alderman Burke reciting a list of articles from 1975 about “nudie joints” and how “massage parlors” are nudie joints, and how police officers, in 1975, wanted to close them down. I know many of my fellow massage therapists will be angry about this characterization of massage businesses as “massage parlors” and “nudie joints.” I, however, found this approach entertaining. A lot has changed in the past 35 years! I am glad the Aldermen are trying to protect their constituents from topless “massage parlors” opening up in retail districts. But, the Massage Establishment Act is not about regulating strip clubs and nudie joints. It’s about regulating legitimate massage businesses like Urban Oasis, Exhale, Chicago Touch and Working Well Massage’s chair massage stations.
I also saw the need for much greater education and outreach to the entire city of Chicago. Aldermen and their constituents in affluent downtown wards that have high end massage businesses like Urban Oasis, tend to be more knowledgeable about the differences between legit massage businesses and massage “parlors.” But those in less affluent wards, with more residential neighborhoods than retail shop areas, tend to have more problems with people opening non-legit “massage parlors.” Understandably, Aldermen in those wards tend to have less experience with legitimate massage businesses. It’s time to educate them and bring more legitimate massage businesses to their wards! This won’t happen overnight, but the wheels of change do turn, they just turn more slowly than some of us might like.
Watch the video of the City Council vote and discussion here. (Click on “Unfinished Business” in the lower left-hand column and the video for the massage zoning will play, starting with Alderman Burke’s statements.)
The Massage Establishment ordinance does try to place limits on those operating non-legit “massage parlors,” but the penalty for doing so is really a slap on the wrist: if a business owner is convicted of operating an illicit business, not a legit massage business, then they must close their business and can’t open a new massage business in that location or anywhere for one year. But what my police officer contacts tell me is that, since illicit businesses raise a lot of money, illicit business owners can afford to close up shop, wait a few weeks, then open with another “owner” in another part of the city and start all over. I say, how about making the penalties for being convicted of running an illicit (aka non-legit, aka house of prostitution) business a fine of $100,000. That may be a greater deterrent than a zoning change or a one-year moratorium on opening a massage business.
The upside (And there is ALWAYS an upside) of the Zoning Change
Existing massage businesses may continue to operate where ever they are now, in whatever district they are now, as long as they comply with city rules and the Massage Establishment Act. (According to Alderman Suarez, they are being “grandfathered in.”) So those of us with previous massage business licenses, hold on to them with all you got! If you ever lose it, if you decide to close your massage business, or if you want to sell your business to someone else, your massage business cannot be located in the same location again unless it ‘s in a C district or B3 district. If a massage business is now located in a B1 or B2 district it will be grandfathered in. But if that business closes, etc. no one else will be able to open or take over that business in that location. So if Massage Envy, or Exhale, decided to move to a new location, the space they are now in may not be approved for a new massage business.
Although Chicago Massage Therapists have lost this battle for today, we haven’t lost the “war.” Watching the video of the City Council meeting, I can see that massage therapists have much more to do to educate our representatives and the public about what legitimate massage therapy really is and how we are different from nudie joints and massage parlors. I trust that our massage associations such as AMTA and ABMP are working diligently behind the scenes to change this ordinance and improve the legal situation for Chicago Massage therapists.
What You Can Do to Help
Once again, its time to email and or call your Chicago Aldermen and women. Tell them you are opposed to this zoning change and that you want them to repeal the change. Tell them if you frequent a legitimate massage business and that you want new massage businesses to be located in safe retail areas, not near strip clubs, used car lots, and taverns.
Licensed Massage Therapists can help out by being active in local AMTA and ABMP chapters. Volunteer to take part in upcoming outreach and education events.
A Sample Email to Your Alderman
“As a client of a legitimate massage therapy business, I implore you to repeal the amendment to limit massage therapy establishments to only C Zoning Districts and B3 Districts. I value the health care benefits of massage and do not want my legitimate massage therapist penalized for the actions of a few illegal massage parlor operators. I visit my massage therapist in a safe convenient location and I do not want to have to travel to an industrial corridor to get massage therapy. This amendment to the zoning for massage businesses will put a huge financial strain on legitimate massage therapy businesses if they are need to expand or relocate, would make it unnecessarily difficult for new massage therapists to open a business, and could increase the city’s unemployment by putting legitimate massage therapists out of work. Please repeal this amendment.”
Feel free to cut and paste our sample email or write your own!
City of Chicago Alderman Names and Emails by Ward
6th Ward Freddrenna Lyle firstname.lastname@example.org
Chicago Aldermen ‘s Votes on Zoning Change for Massage Businesses
One of the reasons it has been so difficult to find information about the zoning change is that it is buried in a part of the City Council web page that few people would think to look at. The link tot eh roll call page showing votes on this issue is here. I reproduce it here for you.
1st Ward: Proco Joe Moreno-Yes to restrict massage businesses to C and B3 Districts
2nd Ward: Robert Fioretti-Yes
3rd Ward: Pat Dowell -Did not vote on this matter
4th Ward: Toni Preckwinkle- Did not vote on this matter
5th Ward: Leslie Hairston-Voted No-Thank you, Alderwoman Hairston!
6th Ward: Freddrenna Lyle-Yes
7th Ward: Sandy Jackson-Did not vote on this matter
8th Ward: Michelle Harris-Yes
9th Ward: Anthony Beale-Did not vote on this matter
10th Ward: John A. Pope-Did not vote on this matter
11th Ward: James A. Balcer-Yes
12th Ward: George A. Cárdenas-Yes
13th Ward: Frank J. Olivo-Did not vote on this matter
14th Ward: Edward M. Burke-Yes
15th Ward: Toni Foulkes-Did not vote on this matter
16th Ward: Joann Thompson-Did not vote on this matter
17th Ward: Latasha R. Thomas-Did not vote on this matter
18th Ward: Lona Lane-Yes
19th Ward: Virginia A. Rugai-Yes
20th Ward: Willie Cochran-Did not vote on this matter
21st Ward: Howard Brookins Jr.-Did not vote on this matter
22nd Ward: Ricardo Muñoz-yes
23rd Ward: Michael R. Zalewski-Yes
24th Ward: Sharon Denise Dixon-Yes
25th Ward: Daniel S. Solis-Yes
26th Ward: Roberto Maldonado-Yes
27th Ward: Walter Burnett, Jr.-Yes
28th Ward: Ed H. Smith-Yes
29th Ward: Deborah Graham-Yes
30th Ward: Ariel E. Reboyras-Yes
31st Ward: Ray Suarez-Yes
32nd Ward: Scott Waguespack-No -Thank you, Alderman Waguespack!!!
33rd Ward: Richard F. Mell-Yes
34th Ward: Carrie M. Austin-Yes
35th Ward: Rey Colón-Yes
36th Ward: John A. Rice-Yes
37th Ward: Emma Mitts-Yes
38th Ward: Thomas R. Allen-Yes
39th Ward: Margaret Laurino-Yes
40th Ward: Patrick J. O’Connor-No-Thank you, Alderman O’Connor!
41st Ward: Brian G. Doherty-No-Thank you, Alderman Doherty!
42nd Ward: Brendan Reilly-No-Thank you, Alderman Reilly!
43rd Ward: Vi Daley-No-Thank you, Alderwoman Daley!
44th Ward: Thomas Tunney-N0-Thank you, Alderman Tunney!
45th Ward: Patrick J. Levar-Yes
46th Ward: Helen Shiller-No-Thank you, Alderwoman Shiller!
47th Ward: Eugene C. Schulter-Yes
48th Ward: Mary Ann Smith-Yes
49th Ward: Joe Moore-Absent
50th Ward: Bernard L. Stone-Yes
Chicago City Zoning Language Defining B and C districts
B1, Neighborhood Shopping district is intended to accommodate a broad range of small-scale retail and service uses. The purpose of the B2, Neighborhood Mixed-Use district is the same as the B1 district, but with the added objective of providing a greater range of development options for those streets where the market demand for retail and service uses is relatively low. By allowing ground-floor residential uses by-right, the B2 district is intended to help stimulate development along under-developed streets. The primary purpose of the B3, Community Shopping district is to accommodate a very broad range of retail and service uses, often in the physical form of shopping centers or larger buildings than found in the B1 and B2 districts. In addition to accommodating development with a different physical form than found in B1 and B2 districts, the B3 district is also intended to accommodate some types of uses that are not allowed in B1 and B2 districts.
The primary purpose of the C1, Neighborhood Commercial district is to accommodate a very broad range of small-scale, business, service and commercial uses. C1 zoning is distinguished from B1 zoning by the range of use types allowed: C1 permits more intensive, more auto-oriented commercial use types than does B1. The C1 district also allows taverns and liquor stores by-right.
For the full, City of Chicago zoning ordinance click here.