Beverly Bailey says she used to get hit up for sex every day back when she ran a therapeutic massage center on Grant Avenue, off of East Third. It was her first business, and she was a state- and national-certified massage therapist. But the calls and the walk-ins kept coming. "On Grant, I got those every day," she says. "That was the place to get it done."
Sometimes the come-ons were direct, she says. Other times, the johns would tiptoe around the issue. "I had several [clients] come through with that: 'Oh, I have a groin pull.' I'd say, 'OK, bring your shorts.' I do a lot of injury massage. Then we'd get going and they'd say, 'Go a little higher.' No, no, we're good right here."
Bailey says she starved in three months on Grant. Now she's in a better location, on Garland Avenue, though she says she still gets asked if she does sexual favors.
It's experiences like Bailey's that motivate a draft ordinance being written up by Spokane's city attorneys that would require most businesses dealing in massage to apply for an extra license on top of the standard business license. This would allow the city to keep better track of the businesses and weed out the ones that offer illegal services, they say.
"We're trying to leave -- shall we say -- the medically appropriate massage therapy, which is well-valued and recognized within the medical community, to not burden them while making sure that massage in other contexts is regulated appropriately," city prosecutor Howard Delaney says.
The new ordinance would forbid massage businesses from being open between the hours of midnight and 7 am and would require a health inspection of the facilities -- especially important, says Delaney, for businesses that offer whirlpools, showers and baths.
Other than that, there is little new in the ordinance. It would spell out that businesses aren't allowed to do anything illegal, can't perform sex acts, can't have employees younger than 18, can't serve alcoholic beverages or drugs, must have a city business license and must license each massagist through the state, as already required by law.
"It's a specific basis to revoke a license here," says Delaney, acknowledging that the ordinance repeats a lot of current statutes. "By putting them in here again, you could lose your license along with being charged with whatever violations. It has stated grounds for denial and grounds for revocation."
Bailey says she approves of the added regulations. "I think that would be pretty good for the whole industry, because then that would alleviate the whole 'Do you do sexual favors?' kind of thing."
Melanie Morlan, who has been a massage therapist for 18 years, thinks somebody ought to take the restrictions further, however. Look in the Yellow Pages, she says, noting that businesses like hers and Bailey's are damaged by the fuzzy line between legitimate therapeutic massage providers and less reputable ones in ads. "It's really a problem when you have a business advertising right above you that says, 'Parking in Rear, Open 24 Hours,' and they're a quarter-inch above yours, and you have a master's degree, and you've worked with Olympic-caliber athletes, and you're trying to run an excellent business." She points out that state law requires massage providers to display their license numbers in advertising and says she has argued that point -- unsuccessfully -- with lawyers at Dex Media.
"Any clarification that can be gained through any sort of licensing -- if the target is to identify those business that are advertising with illicit and illegal behavior -- then that's great," she says.
Delaney says the ordinance would apply to any businesses that offer massage and would be tied to the application and renewal of regular business licenses. The proposal has already passed the Public Safety Committee. Delaney says he expects to pitch it to the city council on June 2 or June 9.