SYCAMORE – The Sycamore city council on Monday passed legislation designed to better regulate massage parlors so illegal activity such as prostitution cannot take place under the guise of a legitimate business.
The new license requirement, approved by an 8-0 unanimous vote, was prompted by at least two instances where Sycamore police arrested people in connection to prostitution at Spa One, 610 Plaza Avenue. Four were arrested in June of 2015, and one person in February. Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters said it's not clear whether the establishment remains in operation to date.
"I don't think Spa One is, whether they're operating under another business or not," Winters said after the council meeting Monday. "This isn't about any type of revenue, we're just making sure we hold everybody to the same standards that the legitimate businesses are already operating under."
Over the past seven years, the Sycamore Police Department has responded to numerous complaints and opened six cases related to suspected criminal activity at the local massage business, documents show.
The new requirement will go into effect Sept. 1 and require an operating license at the city level per establishment, not person, city officials said. The Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulations already requires individual massage therapists to obtain a state license. The local license will allow for business entities to be regulated at the local level, Winters said.
The initial application fee is $50, with an annual renewal fee of $25, and violating the license requirements locally could bring penalties up to $750, documents show. The license will not be available to anyone convicted of prostitution, human trafficking, pandering or other sexual criminal activity, said Brian Gregory, city manager.
License holders will also be subject to inspections and regulated to perform their business from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
By requiring a local license in addition to a state one, city officials said it will ensure businesses are maintaining higher levels of professional standards and operating within the confines of the law.
Not all are happy about the requirement, however, including Amy Bochenek of DeKalb Prenatal Massage at 1210 E. State St., who spoke during Monday's council meeting.
"I'm all for ending this issue, just like someone said, it's a long time coming," Bochenek said. "We hate that people use the guise of massage therapy to do their shenanigans but it's kind of hurting the rest of us that are being legitimate. Now we're just paying extra fines and fees and all that because other people break the rules."
Bochenek said massage therapists who operate business out of their home should be the ones more heavily regulated.
Under the newly approved license, however, home-based massage therapists in Sycamore are exempt from the local requirement. Physicians, physical therapists and podiatric physicians are also exempt. Both Gregory and Winters said the city's not had problems with illegal activity in massage parlors run in homes, only brick and mortar buildings.
Ward 4 Alderman Rick "Spider" Kramer, who's been in the tattoo business for 30 years and owns Spider Tattooz, 126 E. State St., said he disagrees with Bochenek, and said all personal service businesses should welcome regulation.
"The tattoo community has gone through the same motions," Kramer said. "I've run a business for 30 years and it's still not going to stop the people doing it our of their household. But the start is regulations and licensing keeps everybody equal. I think that anybody that's touching people, piercing people, should be looked at and regulated to a point."
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