By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Faced with a growing number of day spas setting up shop in Bay Ridge that are raising eyebrows in the community by offering late-night massages to customers, state Sen. Marty Golden said he’s considering legislation to crack down on the establishments.
“We’re looking at legislation. I’d like to see increased licensing,” Golden told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) said that among the ideas he’s considering is a bill to require each person working in a day spa to acquire a license. “The licensing process should be not just for the location, but for the individual. If you go to get your hair done, the person cutting your hair has been certified by the city of New York to perform that job. You can see the license on the wall. I don’t know if the person giving you a massage in one of these places has a license,” he said.
Golden, a retired cop, said he’s also looking at ways “to make it easier for police to close down illegal spas,” places that are engaged in prostitution. “We should give the police the tools they need,” he said.
In the past year, at least six day spas have opened in Bay Ridge, most of them on Fifth Avenue, a busy commercial street. The storefront spas have raised suspicions among neighborhood residents and civic leaders, who pointed out that many of the places are open late at night, have darkened windows, and have young women working as massage therapists.
The spas aren't unique to Bay Ridge, Golen said. "it's a problem in other neighborhoods, too," he said.
“The evidence of similar massage parlors acting as a front for vile and harmful behavior is too strong,” Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Malliotakis added that she’s also worried about the welfare of the workers. “I remain concerned for the employees, who in certain cases might even be underage and forced into this service,” she said.
In a New York Times article on June 25, outgoing Community Board 10 Chairman Joanne Seminara expressed a similar concern about the possibility of sex trafficking going on.
The article also pointed out that at least one of the day spas advertised its services as exotic and offered a “sweet young girl” as a massage therapist.
“On a broader scale, I worry for our community and the negative impact that this type of activity can generate," Malliotakis said.
The New York Police Department and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes are aware of the situation and are investigating to see if the day spas are legitimate or involved in illicit activity, according to Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), who requested a probe.
“I remain in close touch with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and other law enforcement agencies with regard to massage parlors in our area. However, I must be careful not to jeopardize an ongoing investigation. There is a lot going on behind the scenes and this remains a high priority of mine,” Gentile said.
"There is truly a lot of work being done behind the scenes but not a lot to talk about yet," Justin Brannan, Gentile's communications director, said. Brannan, a lifelong resident of Bay Ridge, said he is concerned about the proliferation of the spas.
But a source with knowledge of city law suggested that investigators have to tread carefully. “It’s like everyone knows what goes on in there. It’s just a matter of proving it. It’s all circumstantial,” the source said, suggesting that closing the day spas down is easier said than done.
There is another way community residents can crack down on the day spas, according to John Quaglione, Golden’s deputy chief of staff. Quaglione said residents should report any infraction, even a small one that a day spa commits.
As an example, Quaglione said he recently called 311 to report one 86th Street day spa that had illegally placed advertising pamphlets on dozens of car windshields. “I have been advised that 28 summonses were issued,” he said.
"The suspicion of illegal activity at these spas, and to add insult to injury, the violation of the law preventing flyers on car windshields, confirms that these spas are a great threat to our quality of life," Quaglione said.