Massage parlors in Doraville may be on the way out if an ordinance tightening their regulation is passed next month by the city council.
If passed, anyone performing massage services must be licensed by the state or face the possibility of fines or business closure.
The council did not vote on the issue at its Sept. 13 meeting but is expected to do so next month.
The ordinance is designed to crack down on existing massage parlors while discouraging more opening from in the future.
“All you have to do is pick up a copy of Creative Loafing, look at the ads in the back and see how many [massage parlors] are in Doraville,” said Luke Howe, Doraville’s assistant to the mayor. “People have just had enough. Doraville has a bad name because of these places.”
There are currently eight massage parlors within the city limits and more nearby in unincorporated DeKalb County. Doraville’s previous ordinance also required licensing but was rarely enforced by the city, said Howe, thereby creating a safe haven.
The new ordinance tightens pre-existing restrictions and includes foot massage businesses, not typically a front for illegal prostitution.
One massage parlor employee not wishing to be named said the ordinance is racist and unfairly targets the Asian community – a point shared by others and one that Howe admitted hearing before.
In a blog earlier in this year, Councilman Bob Roche warned that targeting massage parlors could create “a mess.”
“I support limiting the number of such establishments in town, but we have to be extremely careful about trying to shut down existing businesses,” he wrote. “Foot massage establishments are in a gray area. I’ve traveled in Shanghai and foot massage is part of the Asian culture. The vast majority of establishments are on the up and up, and we should be closely monitoring them for any illegal activity.”
Howe vehemently denied the ordinance targeted the Asian community.
“We want to showcase the best of Asian culture, and we’re proud of our Asian community. The city has a very inclusive culture,” he said. “They’ve [massage parlors] fought tooth and nail against us and are trying to play the race card.”
Some in the business community have questioned cracking down on any businesses at a time when up to 40 percent of Buford Highway retail space is vacant.
However, the ordinance has received strong backing from resident associations, which believe massage parlors have damaged the city’s image.
“We would like to see the development of more desirable businesses that people can use and the containment of undesirable businesses,” said Susan Frasse, a 25-year Doraville resident. “We want to clean up the city.”
Frasse said she believes Doraville’s current LCI study, exploring ways to regenerate the shuttered General Motors plant, has helped raise awareness of local issues.
“Residents want to see more positive developments,” she said. “There have always been concerns about the decline of desirable businesses in the city.
“If people doubt these places have problems, go online and see how they advertise.”