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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 Unfortunately my information was out of date and inaccurate.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

1st Ward Proco Joe Moreno ward01@cityofchicago.org
2nd Ward Robert Fioretti ward02@cityofchicago.org
3rd Ward Pat Dowell Pat.Dowell@cityofchicago.org
4th Ward Toni Preckwinkle tpreckwinkle@cityofchicago.org
5th Ward Leslie Hairston lhairston@cityofchicago.org
6th Ward Freddrenna Lyle flyle@cityofchicago.org
7th Ward Sandi Jackson Sandi.Jackson@cityofchicago.org
8th Ward Michelle Harris mharris@cityofchicago.org
9th Ward Anthony Beale abeale@cityofchicago.org
10th Ward John Pope jpope@cityofchicago.org
11th Ward James Balcer jbalcer@cityofchicago.org
12th Ward George Cardenas ward12@cityofchicago.org
13th Ward Frank Olivo folivo@cityofchicago.org
14th Ward Edward Burke eburke@cityofchicago.org
15th Ward Toni Faulkes Toni.Foulkes@cityofchicago.org
16th Ward JoAnn Thompson JoAnn.Thompson@cityofchicago.org
17th Ward Latasha Thomas lrthomas@cityofchicago.org
18th Ward Lona Lane ward18@cityofchicago.org
19th Ward Virginia Rugai vrugai@cityofchicago.org
20th Ward Willie Cochran Willie.Cochran@cityofchicago.org
21st Ward Howard Brookins ward21@cityofchicago.org
22nd Ward Ricardo Munoz rmunoz@cityofchicago.org
23rd Ward Michael Zalewski mzalewski@cityofchicago.org
24th Ward Sharon Dixon Sharon.Dixon@cityofchicago.org
25th Ward Daniel Solis dsolis@cityofchicago.org
26th Ward Roberto Maldonado Contact by Phone 773)395-0143
27th Ward Walter Burnett wburnett@cityofchicago.org
28th Ward Ed Smith ehsmith@cityofchicago.org
29th Ward Deborah Graham (no contact info)
30th Ward Ariel Reboyras ward30@cityofchicago.org
31st Ward Ray Suarez rsuarez@cityofchicago.org
32nd Ward Scott Waguespack ward32@cityofchicago.org
33rd Ward Richard Mell rmell@cityofchicago.org
34th Ward Carrie Austin caustin@cityofchicago.org
35th Ward Ray Colon ward35@cityofchicago.org
36th Ward John Rice Contact by Phone 773)622-3232
37th Ward Emma Mitts emitts@cityofchicago.org
38th Ward Thomas Allen tallen@cityofchicago.org
39th Ward Margaret Laurino mlaurino@cityofchicago.org
40th Ward Patrick O’Connor poconnor@cityofchicago.org
41st Ward Brian Doherty bdoherty@cityofchicago.org
42nd Ward Brendan Reilly Brendan.Reilly@cityofchicago.org
43rd Ward Vi Daley vdaley@cityofchicago.org
44th Ward Thomas Tunney ttunney@cityofchicago.org
45th Ward Patrick Levar plevar@cityofchicago.org
46th Ward Helen Shiller hshiller@cityofchicago.org
47th Ward Eugene Schulter ward47@cityofchicago.org
48th Ward Mary Ann Smith msmith@cityofchicago.org
49th Ward Joe Moore ward49@cityofchicago.org
50th Ward Bernard Stone bstone@cityofchicago.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.

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Used Car Lot
Is this where you want to go for your massage? Image by dumin via Flickr

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

I was in error when I wrote last month that the city of Chicago had defeated the amendment to the Massage Establishment Act. According to the American Massage Therapy Therapy Association (AMTA). The amendment was not defeated, it was tabled for a vote on May 12. So, once again I am calling on you to take a few minutes or email or call your Alderman/woman. I am providing the latest info from the AMTA’s website below along with contact info for Chicago alderman. (Read my original blog post about this issue  here.)

Say “NO” to restrictive zoning! Say YES to better licensing and enforcement!!

It is rare in the Chicago City Council that an alderman gets an ordinance out of committee, only to have it blocked on the floor of the city council as happened on April 14th. Invoking an absolute right of parliamentary rule and exercising tremendous amount of political courage, Aldermen Joe Moore (49th Ward), Mary Ann Smith (48th Ward) and Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) joined together to “defer and publish”. . . Kudos to Moore, Smith and Reilly! The ordinance will come up for a full vote again at the next Chicago City Council meeting on May 12th. All 50 aldermen in the city of Chicago must hear from us!

The amendment is now slated to come up again for a full vote before the full Chicago City Council on Wednesday, May 12th to immediately enact the ordinance.

WE CAN STILL STOP THIS AMENDMENT, BUT YOU MUST ACT TODAY!

Before Tuesday, May 11, please call, e-mail and write to the alderman where you live, work or patronize a massage therapy clinic !

We really need YOUR help, fellow Chicagoans! Please take just a few minutes to call or email your alderman or alderwoman today. Ask them to support legitimate, licensed massage therapists and local economies citywide and Vote NO to this amendment to the zoning ordinance!

Here is a sample email from the AMTA you can cut and paste or use and modify in your own words:

“As a client of a legitimate massage therapy business and your constituent in the (#) Ward, I am writing to voice my opposition to the recent amendment to the City of Chicago Zoning Ordinance that would redistrict “Massage Establishments” out of B-1 and B-2 zoning districts to B-3 and “C” zoning districts as sponsored by Alderman Ray Suarez of the 31st ward.

While I applaud the alderman’s effort to address the problems of illicit activity, the current direction is misguided. First, the amendment is confusing licensed massage therapy with prostitution and adult entertainment. It clearly discriminates against legitimate massage therapists and businesses that offer licensed massage therapy as a primary practice or ancillary service. Further, it is the ONLY professional service that is being singled out. Could illicit activity not happen in a spa, salon or doctor’s office?

Second, licensed massage therapy is recognized as a legitimate profession by the National League of Cities, of which Chicago is a member. It is a licensed profession in the State of Illinois that is protected by The Massage Licensing Act. This over-arching attempt by government to move practitioners and consumers of licensed massage therapy into zoning districts that strike no parity with the needs of small business owners and consumers sends a message that Chicago is out of touch. It communicates that Chicago is unfriendly to small businesses and unsympathetic to those desiring close proximity to the small businesses that serve and support their local economies.

Third, the amendment as proposed, still does not address the issue of mitigating illicit activity; it merely codifies illegal activity, by moving it slightly away from the periphery of public view and flat-out sends a skewed message that the city is not in fact interested in eradicating this kind of crime.

Since the amendment was passed out of committee on April 12th, overt efforts and attempts by the American Massage Therapy Association-Illinois Chapter have been made to reach a fair and amenable solution, including the draft of a Fair Practice Act and a Model Ordinance. Today, we all stand in solidarity with many local chambers of commerce, other allied professionals and consumers.

This matter is scheduled to come before the City Council on May 12th, 2010. I am requesting that you allow common sense to prevail, exercise the same political courage of Aldermen Moore, Smith (48) and Reilly, and that you vote NO to this amendment.

************************************************************************************************************

Feel free to cut and paste our sample email or write your own. I appreciate your help on this important issue!

City of Chicago Alderman Names and Emails by Ward

1st Ward Proco Joe Moreno ward01@cityofchicago.org
2nd Ward Robert Fioretti ward02@cityofchicago.org
3rd Ward Pat Dowell Pat.Dowell@cityofchicago.org
4th Ward Toni Preckwinkle tpreckwinkle@cityofchicago.org
5th Ward Leslie Hairston lhairston@cityofchicago.org
6th Ward Freddrenna Lyle flyle@cityofchicago.org
7th Ward Sandi Jackson Sandi.Jackson@cityofchicago.org
8th Ward Michelle Harris mharris@cityofchicago.org
9th Ward Anthony Beale abeale@cityofchicago.org
10th Ward John Pope jpope@cityofchicago.org
11th Ward James Balcer jbalcer@cityofchicago.org
12th Ward George Cardenas ward12@cityofchicago.org
13th Ward Frank Olivo (Zoning Committee Member) folivo@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: (773) 581-8000  City Hall Phone: (312) 744-3076
14th Ward Edward Burke (Zoning Committee Member) eburke@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: 773-471-1414  City Hall Phone: 312-744-3380
15th Ward Toni Foulkes Toni.Foulkes@cityofchicago.org
16th Ward JoAnn Thompson JoAnn.Thompson@cityofchicago.org
17th Ward Latasha Thomas (Zoning Committee Member) lrthomas@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: 773-723-0908 City Hall Phone: 312-744-7738
18th Ward Lona Lane ward18@cityofchicago.org
19th Ward Virginia Rugai vrugai@cityofchicago.org
20th Ward Willie Cochran Willie.Cochran@cityofchicago.org
21st Ward Howard Brookins ward21@cityofchicago.org
22nd Ward Ricardo Munoz rmunoz@cityofchicago.org
23rd Ward Michael Zalewski mzalewski@cityofchicago.org
24th Ward Sharon Dixon Sharon.Dixon@cityofchicago.org
25th Ward Daniel Solis (Zoning Committee Chair) dsolis@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: (773) 523-4100 City Hall Phone: (312) 744-6845
26th Ward Roberto Maldonado Contact by Phone 773 395-0143
27th Ward Walter Burnett wburnett@cityofchicago.org
28th Ward Ed Smith (Zoning Committee Member) ehsmith@cityofchicago.org
29th Ward Deborah Graham Contact by Phone (312) 744-8805
30th Ward Ariel Reboyras ward30@cityofchicago.org
31st Ward Ray Suarez (Zoning Committee Member that sponsored amendment) rsuarez@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: (773) 486-6488 City Hall Phone: (312) 744-6102
32nd Ward Scott Waguespack ward32@cityofchicago.org
33rd Ward Richard Mell rmell@cityofchicago.org
34th Ward Carrie Austin (Zoning Committee Member) caustin@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: (773) 928-6961 City Hall Phone: (312) 744-6820
35th Ward Ray Colon (Zoning Committee Member) ward35@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: (773) 365-3535 City Hall Phone: (312) 744-6835
36th Ward John Rice Contact by Phone 773)622-3232
37th Ward Emma Mitts emitts@cityofchicago.org
38th Ward Thomas Allen (Zoning Committee Member) tallen@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: (773) 545-3838 City Hall Phone: (312) 744-6811
39th Ward Margaret Laurino (Zoning Committee Member) mlaurino@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: (773) 736-5594 City Hall Phone: (312) 744-7242
40th Ward Patrick O’Connor pjoconnor@cityofchicago.org
41st Ward Brian Doherty bdoherty@cityofchicago.org
42nd Ward Brendan Reilly Brendan.Reilly@cityofchicago.org
43rd Ward Vi Daley (Zoning Committee Member) vdaley@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: (773) 327-9111 City Hall Phone: (312) 744-3071
44th Ward Thomas Tunney ttunney@cityofchicago.org
45th Ward Patrick Levar plevar@cityofchicago.org
46th Ward Helen Shiller hshiller@cityofchicago.org
47th Ward Eugene Schulter (Zoning Committee Member) ward47@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: 773-348-8400 City Hall Phone: 312-744-3180
48th Ward Mary Ann Smith msmith@cityofchicago.org
49th Ward Joe Moore ward49@cityofchicago.org
50th Ward Bernard Stone (Zoning Committee Member) bstone@cityofchicago.org
Ward Phone: 773-764-5050 City Hall Phone: 312-744-6855
Note: Ald. Bernard Stone (50th Ward)  is the only Committee member that was opposed to the ordinance.  Thank you Alderman Stone!!!!!

A Better Idea For Massage In Chicago

In the meantime, the AMTA-IL Government Relations Committee is finalizing language for a model ordinance that would require massage therapy establishments to submit proof of state licensure when applying for business licenses or renewal (currently not done), and levying substantial fines for violations (also not currently done). Members of the Zoning Committee and a City Commissioner want to partner with the AMTA to address the issues of illicit activity in their wards without discriminating against licensed massage therapists and legitimate massage therapy establishments.

The AMTA proposal is designed to protect the public from illegal massage “parlors” without adversely effecting the business of legitimate massage therapists. But this proposal will likely fall on deaf ears if the current nonsensical and damaging amendment to the Massage Establishment Act passes on Wednesday, May 12.

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