DULUTH — Duluth has experienced a continuing problem with crime and unlicensed massages occurring at businesses within the city.
To address that issue, the city council approved an amendment to the city's massage ordinance that requires an increase in licensing fee, limits the number of businesses allowed within the city, requires more stringent background checks for applicants and managers, and requires therapists at businesses submit to fingerprinting at the request of city officials to verify their identity and state certification.
As presented by the city attorney, the new ordinance increases the regulatory licensing fee from $500 to $1,500, with the fees starting June 1 for new businesses and Jan. 1 for current businesses. Background checks and photo identifications will also be required.
Duluth police detective Rick Thompson said that the new ordinance will give a big assist to the police in investigations.
"Right now, I can't determine who the individuals are because there's no requirement for photo identification," he said. "We come in there and they just say they're the person up on the wall. This ordinance provides a means for verifying them."
Thompson went on to say that along with the illegal activities of prostitution, many of these massage parlors are bringing more crime into town, as evidence by a Nov. 22 incident in which the Tong Tong China Massage Parlor on Peachtree Industrial Parkway was robbed. As officers responded to the incident, two assailants exchanged gunfire with the cops, eventually being captured and arrested.
"This is a safety issue for our community," resident Greg Stewart said during an audience forum at the meeting. "These businesses are bringing this type of trouble into our community. This is a lot more serious than we think. This is a major problem going on," he said, referring to illegal massage parlors.
"We've seen the ads on Craigslist," he said. "You have these ads for these girls and they're at these massage parlors. I've even seen some go pay their fine in court and go on about their day like it's nothing."
Stewart did say that not all massage parlors are bad and he wants to see them succeed, mainly focusing on the businesses that aren't doing things the right way.
"Some of them are legitimate and conduct business the right way," he said. "This ordinance won't hurt them. Basically, if you're doing the right thing, you'll be fine. This is only to get the bad businesses out of town."
Thompson said that now, enough violations should shut these businesses down, as ownership can't change with the same people working there to keep the businesses open.
"This gives us more tools to identify illegal activities," Thompson said. "The safety of the citizens is our primary concern."