Massage businesses in Cary now will need to be licensed and will be subject to other regulations, the Cary Village Board decided this week.
The changes, passed unanimously by board members, come as Cary has seen an increase in the number of massage service businesses in the community, officials said.
In certain circumstances, according to village documents, businesses or individuals in the businesses did not retain a “legitimate business model,” which required further action from the village.
Licensing massage business would give village staff the ability to inspect these places to ensure they are not conducting illegal activities, Community Development Director Brian Simmons has said.
In 2019, someone was charged with prostitution at a massage business in the village, Cary Police Chief Patrick Finlon said. Only one person was arrested in the case, but Finlon said the department occasionally receives complaints about businesses operating outside of their state regulatory requirements and it has to look into those matters.
Finlon said a component to the new ordinance will require police to do background investigations for anyone applying to open a massage business.
“A lot of it is supposition, so we have to kind of do more investigation to determine what is valid versus what is rumor,” Finlon said.
The more that private businesses are regulated in terms of ensuring applicants don’t have a criminal background and are licensed, the fewer complaints there likely will be, he said.
According to village documents, a few massage businesses reached out to the village before Tuesday’s meeting noting they were concerned the village was grouping professional, legitimate massage therapists with the kinds of masseuses who offer sexual services.
Massage therapists hold themselves to high ethical standards, these business owners said, and have to be licensed by the state.
“I fully embrace the need to discourage unlicensed, questionable entities from entering our community offering ‘massages;’ however, the tone of the proposed ordinances projects and graphically exposes the scope of this possible scenario,” Shirley Tate, owner of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, wrote in a letter to Cary.
She said language in the ordinance carries a derogatory image of massages with intentions other than health care. However, those who work in the massage therapy health care field have worked for more than 50 years to correct this misconception and restore professionalism to the practice of massage therapy, Tate added.
Simmons said Cary’s goal in this is to make sure all businesses in town are operating on a consistent plane.
“That gives us more ability to investigate issues or concerns that may come up with the establishment to ensure that they continue to comply with code regulations,” he said. “We respect the businesses that have been in the village and operating without complaints or issues to date.”
Should there be a need to modify the code in the future, Simmons said, the Village Board will have the ability to tweak the ordinance.
“It certainly could be an item that could come back to the board in the future,” Simmons said. “But at this point, the board felt these regulations were the best for the community, to put everything in the same playing field.”
Changes also were made to the village’s zoning rules for massage businesses. They will not be allowed to be within 1,000 feet of a public or private elementary, vocational or secondary school, day care or library, nor will they be allowed within that proximity to an existing massage establishment.
Although the ordinance took effect Tuesday, there will be a period where village officials will notify businesses of the new requirements. Businesses will need to apply sometime in January for a license, Simmons said, and Cary’s hope is to have them issued by mid-February.
“There’s about a two-month, three-month process here to get properties into compliance with the new requirements,” Simmons said.
The annual cost of a license will be $100. To receive one, an application will need to be submitted with a copy of the applicant’s identification and any criminal convictions other than misdemeanor traffic violations. Applicants also will need to be fingerprinted by the Cary Police Department and keep a register of all individuals employed or contracted at their businesses at all times.