Council delays action on massage ordinance


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) speaks at a City Council meeting. Council voted to send a massage licensing ordinance back to committee for a rewrite Monday night.

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

City Council moved to send an ordinance addressing massage establishments in Evanston back to committee for a rewrite Monday night, citing concerns with language.

The ordinance, introduced to council on March 28, would require massage establishments to license with the city, meet various building and operational requirements and prohibit sexual activity in the massage establishment. The ordinance received complaints from massage establishment owners and massage therapists.

In response to the large amount of complaints that raised concerns about the wording of the ordinance, Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) moved to send the ordinance to be reworked.

“We wanted to look again at some of the language,” Holmes said. “It was never the intent to harm anyone’s business, that is not what it is about. We’re just educating ourselves better to give you something better.”

In addition to requiring massage therapists to register with the city, the original ordinance would require massage establishments to post their prices in the reception area, provide separate changing rooms for male and female employees and prohibit rooms in which massages are performed to have a locking door. Additionally, it would prohibit massage therapists to make contact with the genital area.

More than 30 massage business owners and massage therapists showed up to Monday’s city council meeting, but left after Holmes said she would move to hold the ordinance. A few business owners and massage therapists spoke at the Administration and Public Works committee before council and said incorrect definitions and use of outdated terms, among other provisions, would limit the scope of customers’ bodies they could work with.

Sarah McLaughlin, a massage therapist who works at the Heartwood Center, 1818 Dempster St., said she frequently works with the buttocks area and that it was the common source of problems such as lower back pain and digestive issues.

“It’s a common practice and a common area for licensed massage therapists to work that area, so there really should be no problem with that whatsoever,” she told The Daily. “Right now what they’re doing is they’re confusing massage therapy with prostitution.”

McLaughlin said she still supported the implementation of a similar ordinance in order to limit prostitution and human trafficking.

“Please believe me when I say that no one wants to stop illicit activity more than the massage therapy community,” she said at the meeting. “That being said this ordinance is incredibly unhelpful.”

A few aldermen expressed concern with the issues brought forth by massage therapists in the community. Those at the meeting to speak about the ordinance were encouraged to write down their email to receive information about future actions with the ordinance.

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) said a general lack of knowledge was responsible for the ordinance’s issues and that they would try to correct the issues before the ordinance is reintroduced at the meeting on May 23.

“You kind of caught us with our pants down more than anything else,” he said.

This article was updated at 7:21 p.m. to clarify McLaughlin’s title. 

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Twitter: @noracshelly