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The secret permit you didn’t know existed that is ruining massage in New York City and what we can do about it

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The secret permit you didn’t know existed that is ruining massage in New York City and what we can do about it

If you are a licensed massage therapist practicing in New York City, you need to read this article now. 

9 years ago, in opening my business, I came up against a wall called the Adult Physical Culture Permit. If you are a licensed massage therapist and do not know what it is, you are not alone. When I started asking about it, many of the business owners and teachers I asked were unfamiliar with the permit or misunderstood how it worked. Many long-established licensed massage therapists did not know that their businesses were technically in violation of an out-of-date zoning law. 

What’s is it?

In the 1970s, regulations were put into place in New York City to get a grip on the brothels and unsafe prostitution houses running out of bogus business fronts. The regulations used a wide brush and stated all businesses where the services provided include touch or instruction between man and woman needed to prove that they weren’t selling sex. To do so, they needed to apply and be approved for an Adult Physical Culture Permit.

The Adult Physical Culture Permit is highly specialized, much like a liquor license. It requires that you have rented your space before applying for the permit, you then go through a permit application that can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to process (while you pay rent!), hire an architect to do a land survey, interview neighboring businesses and residents to see what your impact on the community would be, and go through a public hearing process. If that sounds like a LOT, you’re right it is!
Read more about how the permit came to be here

How this hurt’s NYC Massage bussinesses

Here’s how the math played out when I estimated the cost to opening a very small clinic of 3 rooms:

Let’s say rent at your potential location is $4,000 a month, but your landlord requires a 6-month commitment and deposit, so in your first month, your initial cost is $24k. At a minimum, the permit process takes another 6 months, so that’s another $24k just in rent. According to land attorney Howard Goldman, the lawyers, architects, and processing fees to get the permit approved can cost up to $50k. So to get into your space, before you factor in insurance and payroll, you need $98,000 in operating costs to practice massage legally in New York City right now.

Aside from the gross and possibly debilitating financial drain on small businesses, like our very own, the very fact that the permit requires massage therapists to prove that they aren’t performing sex work before they even open their space implies that massage could only be sex work if some government authority doesn’t oversee it. We’ve already spoken about the biases people can have toward massage, conflating it with sex work, and this shows that bias can literally be written into law.

Setting the financial bar so high ensures that large companies dominate massage in New York City rather than actual small businesses. Meaning, people with no training in massage are often running a massage business through a corporate structure, ensuring low pay and low quality.

What we can do about it

I am bringing this up now because there is a chance for us to do something about it.
Sometime this week, NYC is hosting public feedback sessions to potentially change the text of this law, leading to therapists no longer needing this permit to practice in New York City. Massage therapists, business owners, and future owners will be able to call in and testify how this permit hinders their business, profits, and plans. NOW IS THE TIME MASSAGE THERAPISTS NEED TO ACT.

Because of the service we provide, massage should rightfully be classified as medical care, and the zoning should reflect that.

If you attended the webinar held by the New York State Society of Medical Massage Therapists, you have already gotten some information on the players involved and who will be speaking, but anyone can attend the hearing virtually. 

35 years is way more time than this thing should’ve been on the books. Many small businesses and entrepreneurs are crushed under the weight of this permit, leaving room only for the big spa chains and corporations. Let’s change that now!

Today, the date and time for the review haven’t been decided, but we will update HERE when it is. We are asking that you forward this to any massage therapist you know so that they can get involved.


Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage

1 W 34th St
#204, New York, NY 10001Phone: 212-600-4808
Email: info@bodymechanicsnyc.com

Body Mechanics Therapists’ Favorite Local Bites

It feels like it took an eternity, but Spring has finally pushed away the chilly days of Winter. We no longer have to power-walk from the subway to our heated destinations. We can take a relaxed stroll down the block and meet up with friends. With that in mind, we realized visiting guests might want to take advantage of the weather and make a full day of their massage appointment. So we asked the Body Mechanics staff to list some of their favorite local bites near the office so you can plan your day.

Coffee and Quick Stops

The joke about there being a Starbucks on every corner in Manhattan is never more true than in Herald Square. There are three within one block radius of us, the most convenient to get to being the  Starbucks right across the street, right next to the entrance to the Empire State Building’s observatory. The new oat milk goes a delicious chai latte! 

And for America’s next favorite cup of joe, there’s a Dunkin Donuts just around the corner! Our vegan therapists think the avocado toast is perfect for a fast meal.

Directly across the street from us is a Chipotle that is always busy. Grab your favorite rice bowl to go after your massage.

Most New Yorkers have a preferred bagel place, but you can’t go wrong with Ess-a-Bagel on 32nd. From whitefish on pumpernickel to bacon egg and cheese on wheat, this place has it all.

Therapists’ Favorite Meals

We’re lucky to be so close to Koreatown and all the delicious hidden gems it has. Outdoor, heated dining is available for many restaurants or you can grab and go.

Design the perfect bowl of curry for yourself at Abiko Curry. Choose your level of spiciness, then add your favorites from a selection of chicken, pork, seafood, or veggies.

A staple for over 20 years, Woorijip has a lot to choose from. Pre-pandemic, they were a cafeteria-styled, sit-down location where you could take your fill your tray with whatever you wanted from kimchi fried rice, Japanese style chicken, fried eggplant, spicy pork, and much much more. They’ve switched over to stacking containers prepackaged with one part of a meal that you can mix and match and take out.

For even more options to choose from, head over to Food Gallery 32. A small food mall with over 10 vendors selling specialized items. Taiyaki, steamed buns, ramen to bubble tea to fried chicken sandwiches and luxurious desserts are a few of the many offerings here.

Something for Everyone

Sometimes we’ve made all the decisions we’re gonna make in one day and on when we can’t decide what we want to eat and on those days we go somewhere that does everything! Market Crate and ETC Eatery both have built-in cafes for various coffees and espresso drinks, a pasta bar, a sandwich area, a griddle for egg platters and pancakes, and seasonal hot meals. ETC Eatery also offers New York-themed gifts, rare candies, and treats like mochi.

Food isn’t just fuel; it’s a gift you can treat yourself or loved ones to. Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage is proud to support these local New York businesses that have given us comfort and kept us going as we’ve worked for all of our clients who have supported us. Let us know if you find a new favorite treat near us!

A Map of every location we mentioned above!

Want to learn about recent changes here at Body Mechanics?

Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage

1 W 34th St
#204,
New York, NY 10001
Phone: 212-600-4808
Email: info@bodymechanicsnyc.com