Manchester Leaders Consider New Massage Parlor Rules

Proposed new massage parlor rules focused on cleanliness, permits and licensing are meant to protect legitimate therapists and identify those operating outside the law, officials say.

But board of directors members question whether the proposed regulations go far enough.

The rules would replace a 40-year-old ordinance designed to address concerns about massage parlors as fronts for prostitution. Town leaders say similar fears have re-emerged with the recent openings of several new storefront massage therapy businesses, including three in the downtown area.

Board Minority Leader Cheri Eckbreth said revised rules should prohibit parlor owners from covering their windows. Blocked windows, Eckbreth said, feed perceptions that “something nefarious is going on.” Others at the meeting, however, said those concerns would be better addressed in revisions to downtown design regulations.

Current massage parlor rules, adopted in 1977, have not been enforced, town officials acknowledged. Carrying “onerous fees” and allowing for aggressive inspections, the rules were designed to target suspected shady establishments operating in the 1970s and dissuade others from opening similar businesses, Assistant Town Attorney Tim O’Neil said. The regulations solved the problem, O’Neil said, and similar concerns were not raised until recently.

The proposed ordinance says massage therapists, including existing businesses, must have a permit to operate from the health director and would be subject to inspections at least once a year. The health director could shut down a business for violations.

The proposed rules borrow heavily from West Hartford’s regulations (http://bit.ly/2A2wBwL), which begin with a stated intent to “protect and promote public health, safety and sanitation; and prevent the spread of disease.”

Manchester police and health department officials visited seven massage businesses recently and found that all therapists had the proper state licenses, town health Director Jeffrey Catlett said. The inspections, which included two parlors on Main Street, also found that the businesses had the proper sanitary facilities, Catlett said.

But police also say criminal operations continue. The East Central Narcotics Task Force recently arrested two women on prostitution charges at a converted house called Bright Spa near the Superior Court on West Center Street. Local and state officials shut the operation down because of multiple building, fire and state labor code violations, task force leader Sgt. Matthew Pace has said. More arrests are expected, Pace said.

In general, massage establishments enjoy large profit margins, and the Manchester locations appear to be doing brisk business with a clientele of mostly older, white men, Pace has said. Men visit throughout the day and sometimes after 10 p.m., he said.

Police also have concerns about people living in the businesses and possible human trafficking, he said. The Bright Spa, Pace noted, was outfitted illegally with three bedrooms and a kitchen.

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