Warren, Ohio, is known as the birthplace of Foo Fighters’ drummer David Grohl, the home of the National Packard Museum and lately, the go-to place for men who want to blow money in one of the city’s 10 massage parlors. No pun intended.
Now, the Warren City Council is fighting back with new legislation designed to regulate massage parlors and all the sordid acts that everybody knows of but nobody talks about. (Until now: See Rory Axelrod’s investigative report for a shocking behind-the-scenes glimpse of what some of the parlors offer.)
Ohio has 23 registered massage parlors. Ten of them are within Warren’s city limits, making it the city with the highest concentration of parlors in the state. The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative (MVOC) took notice and released an extensive 117-page report last July. It details the shocking realities of the massage-parlor business, including links to prostitution and human trafficking.
The report also brings to light the large number of websites and blogs that offer customer reviews of the parlors. Reviews often include information about the appearance of the woman giving the massage and the various services offered.
It’s no secret that patrons of the parlors are spending upwards of $120 per hour for services that define “massage” very loosely. The city had always had the massage parlors in its sights, but amid public outcry and the damning MVOC report, the council moved forward with regulating the businesses.
In a unanimous vote January 25, the city council passed an ordinance that puts in place several key regulations designed to control Warren’s less-than-wholesome industry. They include increasing the current registration fee for the businesses from $600 to $1,800 and limiting the hours of operation. Also, anybody working in a massage parlor within city limits must undergo 100 hours of training before they can practice.
In comparison, the state currently requires massage therapists to complete 750 hours of training and take an exam before they are permitted to practice. Warren’s policy is a step in the right direction. But customers don’t seem to mind that the women giving relaxation massages aren’t trained and certified.
Warren City Councilman Greg Bartholomew finds it ironic that patrons are willing to pay so much for relaxation massages: “If somebody charges $60 per hour, which is the going rate for a massage by a trained professional, why are there relaxation massages — given by untrained people — going for $75 to $100 an hour?” he said.
The massage parlors aren’t taking the new regulations laying down. Nine of the 10 parlors in Warren have united and filed a lawsuit against the city. Daniel Keating and Gary Rich, the parlors’ attorneys, say the regulations are unreasonable.
It may be several more months until any kind of major changes take place. But for now, the very act of passing legislation is a sign that things are moving in the right direction.
The Firsthand Account…
During the drive from Cleveland to Warren, I assessed the potential pitfalls of this assignment. Would a cop accept press credentials as a get-out-of-jail-free card for soliciting prostitution? Could I plead journalistic inquiry?
Signs point to no.
As I arrived in Warren for the first time, it felt like Christmas Day. Nothing looked open, and there were no people around. The once-proud city has fallen on tough times, becoming something of a depressed area, which is ironic considering all the happy endings going on down there.
Pulling in front of the spa, I began to worry that it wasn’t open. The building looked like an abandoned insurance office. The pits. Nestled in a faded window, the only one on the building, was a Day-Glo “Open” sign.
Inside the steel door, the air was heavy with cheap, powdery old-lady perfume, a scent of foreboding. A small digital camera was perched in a corner, capturing the occupants’ movements as they waited to be buzzed into the inner rooms. In a moment, the door was opened by a short and sturdy Asian woman, who appeared to be in her 50s.
Everything inside seemed to be covered in lace and velvet. Down a narrow, wood-paneled hallway was a small room with a worn rug, dim red light bulb and a ridged massage table. Laid out on the table were some towels and a pair of flip-flops. The woman asked me to undress and returned shortly to take me to the sauna.
I’m not certain if it was being stuck in a sauna at an Asian massage parlor in only a towel or the pot I smoked in the parking lot earlier, but paranoia set in heavy. At any moment I expected the cops to come stomping in and haul ol’ Axelrod off to the clink again, this time for good. I also realized I forgot to put the flip-flops on.
As the door opened. I braced for the worst and got the same woman. I felt fortunate. She waved for me to come get a table shower. To skip all the gory details, we’ll say it was thorough. Professional and thorough.
After being toweled off, we went back to the little red room, and the massage began. I’m no rubdown expert, but I’d say this one was run-of-the-mill, except the lady changed into some lingerie and was sitting on my back.
With the back all done, she flipped me over to finish me off. Despite being upwards of 20 years my senior, it didn’t seem odd for her to do what she was about to do. Again, not to be too graphic, but it rhymes with dough Bob.
Throughout the time I spent there, everything seemed very professional, almost like going to the doctor’s. You wouldn’t look twice at your medical practitioner during the old “turn and cough,” would you?
As I drove away, I felt very relaxed, in addition to craving a caramel macchiato and a nice steak dinner.
Unfortunately, this tale has a bit of a sad epilogue. A few days after my visit to the spa, I began to experience a certain burning, deep down there. After bearing a painful day at work of burning and itching, I couldn’t wait to get home and get my undergarments off. As I pulled my sock away, there it was: the burning, itching redness of athlete’s foot. Wear your flip-flops, kids.