Williamsburg can be known to visitors as a destination vacation to relax with good wine, local flare, and maybe even a day at the spa.
But when spa-goers put on their robes and prepare for an immersive experience, they expect a certain standard of safety and legitimacy, said Williamsburg Police Chief Sean L. Dunn. That’s what a new ordinance from the city is hoping to do.
“We want to create that standard of operation so that we aren’t allowing any non-legitimate businesses to create a reputation in Williamsburg,” Dunn said. “This is definitely a growing problem in some communities and with this ordinance we are positioning this city to best avoid unscrupulous parlors to open in Williamsburg.”
Ordinance 18-18 was adopted at the City Council meeting on Dec. 10 and would create an operating standard above the present qualifications for spas and massage parlors in the area. This change comes a year after the national chain Massage Envy was implicated in 180 cases of sexual assault.
While the Massage Envy in Williamsburg was not one of the locations implicated, the new ordinance might prevent similar incidents at any spa and massage establishments in the city.
Some of the changes in regulations include a more rigorous record system with dates, times, patron and massage therapist names.
In addition the ordinance sets a limit on operating hours, making businesses available only between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“Places giving massages after 10 p.m. are usually illegitimate and operating under a different standard,” Dunn said. “Not always, but this way we can prevent that.”
Prior to this ordinance, Dunn said there wasn’t a specific set of standards in the city besides requiring that massage therapists be certified by the Virginia Board of Nursing.
But even this standard can be tough on the business, said George Daniels, manager of Giving Tree Spa.
“It’s not the maintenance of quality that is an issue, we’re already doing a lot of those practices in our business,” he said. “It’s finding qualified people. We get all sorts of people wanting to work as massage therapists but it’s difficult to find those with the right certifications.”
One of the aspects of the ordinance would be that massage therapists are required to have their name and certifications openly displayed for guests. Additionally, each location is required to have separate massage rooms for female and male clients. The code states in those rooms, no massages will be performed behind closed doors.
This helps to provide a level of legitimacy to the care people are receiving, Dunn said. It also prevents instances where a massage therapist might disrobe for a customer or touch them inappropriately.
Dunn said this isn’t a significant problem in the city at the moment, but he doesn’t want it to become one in the future.
“It’s about being proactive rather than reactive,” he said. “This ordinance lays out the definition of what massage parlors are and maintains that standard throughout Williamsburg.”
At places like The Giving Tree Day Spa, they are already operating to a high standard without having to be directed to do so, Daniels said. But having this ordinance in place will help to maintain Williamsburg as a destination location.
“People come here and want to know they’re taken care of,” he said. “We want to maintain that legitimacy not just for our business, but across the area.”