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long-established licensed massage therapists did not know that their businesses were technically in violation of an out-of-date zoning law.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.
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.
The Ultimate Guide to Paying it Forward to Small Business During Covid
It is no surprise that 2020 is a hard year for most people. As a small business owner, it has been especially challenging. Many New York businesses were closed upwards of four months at the start of the season representing crushing financial losses. While most of us New Yorkers gripe about the big box stores coming in, New York is still mainly made up of small businesses, and those businesses represent jobs, and more importantly, people.
With that in mind I wanted to put together a list of things you, the public (or fellow small businesses) can do to help make sure your favorite Mom and POP’s make it through the winter.
We reached out to PrimeGuide Partners, a social media marketing agency based in NYC, to get some advice on best FREE practices to support small businesses. They are women and minority-owned small businesses themselves. Here is the list of completely free tools most people have at their disposal. They recommended some of the following bolded tips. Be sure to follow @primeguide on Instagram for more social media advice:
Posting a positive review to Yelp or Google. (or both) Posting reviews for a business is FREE marketing for them. It can also provide content for Google to crawl/read so it can affect how businesses come up in search, so putting words that include the neighborhood and service into their review can be extra helpful. Since Google is a huge search engine, it is preferred, especially since Yelp sometimes filters first-time reviewers.
Following the business on Facebook and Instagram…and commenting on their posts. Prime Guide specified that “Engagement on a post can be as simple as a smiley face emoji or heart. It helps businesses understand what type of content is resonating with their audience. Also, posts with more active and thoughtful interactions will get more reach and help the business grow its online presence. And don’t forget to share on your page or story!”
Feature the business in a story or post. If you have a favorite photographer or are remembering an event, remember to tag/geotag and give a shout out to the business involved. Telling your friends via a story that you just had your workout with your favorite trainer is literally invaluable.
Recommend them online in social groups. While these kinds of recommendations do not come up in Google the same way reviews do, they are often more trusted as they are personal recommendations from online community groups. The thread may be searched over and over again by others looking for recommendations from real people that they trust. Trust is a high-value reward.
Sign up for their mailing list. Signing up for a business mailing list can keep you aware of opportunities you might be interested in.
Word of mouth referral. This one is old fashioned, but it works. Face to face referrals are trusted…and can build long-lasting relationships.
For industry-specific advice, we reached out to some of our other favorite businesses to see if they had ideas about things that might help them the most in the next few months.
Katie Ward, a family photographer, is currently only offering outdoor shoots due to COVID. This has cut her season short since no one wants to have outdoor shoots when it gets cold. In addition to the suggestion of buying gift certificates for friends and family, or booking shoots now for next year, she also added that many photographers can provide prints and holiday cards for you as well. “I know that most of my clients are already planning on spending money to have prints and holiday cards made. What would be ideal is if they love my work, and the photos I provide to them, to make these purchases through me. The commissions from these purchases would be helpful in keeping me afloat during the winter when I can’t be shooting.”@katie_n_ward
Due to both being labeled as exercise and being a face-to-face business, yoga studios have been hit hard. Yoga studios are not necessarily a place to go exercise, they are technically schools and community meeting places. We reached out to Teri from Park Slope Yoga and she had this to say:” There are many thoughts on what support looks like – and the longer this goes, the amounts required keep rising. Coming to class and purchasing online memberships seems obvious, but can be problematic to those who struggle with space (mental/physical) in NYC apartments. Our beautiful community has provided donations that have allowed us great benefit.” She recommended introducing your neighbors, friends, and coworkers to studios you love…this season it seems like it might be time to give the gift of yoga, after all it will be a gift that flows two ways. To help right now you can access on-demand yoga from their website rather than go to YouTube, and buy gently used props for home practice. Please check with your local studio for their offerings. @parkslopeyoga
Making it as a small fitness + wellness business on the other side of Covid requires flexibility, a focus on safety and quality more than ever. We talked to Luisa Noelle about her personal training business and she said she has, “shifted about 80% of my fitness and yoga clients online. My nutrition services were generally online already or shifted along with my personal training clients to online. 10% of clients have shifted to training outside. As it’s getting colder, we are layering up and are still training outside.” While some gyms are open, it is at limited capacity and there are no classes, so now might be the time to start having some fitness dates at a distance. Being open to modifying your usual routine to train outside or online really helps. She also noted, because she took off 3 months in the pandemic, finding balance is hard, things can suddenly drop off, and “it’s hard to fit in the needed time for nonspecific client communication along with my other work-related tasks. On the weeks where things sink to 5 sessions a week, it’s hard to power work through a communications plan effectively due to change” @noelleh33
Beauty industries have been hit hard because they are face to face and they were closed the longest. We talked to Hibba Kapil about her business Hibba Soho that specializes in waxing, threading, and eyebrow shaping about what she needs most. She said, “many people are reluctant to buy packages right now, due to the uncertainty of it all, but rest assured your packages will be there when this is over.” Buying them now is very helpful. She also said to enquire about other options if you do not want to come in. For example, right now Hibba will come to you if you are in the NYC area for services over $100. Your whole pod can get pampered. Bottom line email the business and ask questions @hibbabeautystudio
Businesses that produce things, like florists, gift basket makers, and personalized products face a different set of challenges altogether. We reached out to Suzanna Cameron of Stems Brooklyn, an eco-conscious florist in Bushwick to ask her about what would best help businesses such as her in this holiday season and she recommended, “To look for any items locally versus just going online to a big chain. And having patience with small businesses by understanding everyone is working more restricted services so that sometimes impacts how quickly you can get what you want.”. New York State has placed restrictions on business capacities and many mom and POP’s are now working with reduced staffing due to moves, finances, and staff changes. Buying local even when there is a big distributor for a service is super important right now. @stemsbrooklyn
We can all see what is happening to the restaurants and cafes….We have outdoor dining but winter is coming. We reached out to Jaqueline Assumpcao of Mojo Desserts on the Upper East Side to ask what she thought would be the best help. She had recently heard of something called a “‘cash mob‘, which is where groups of people come together and shower the business”. Buying in groups so the money really adds up, taking the initiative to organize and support your community can make a huge difference. And of course, if you’re wondering, order directly from the business. @mojodesserts
There are a LOT more suggestions. While I was putting this list together and talking to business owners, this website came out to support the UES Stores. Big thank you to the designers for taking the initiative. For businesses like mine, and massage therapy, that requires long face-to-face contact I would recommend contacting the city council for rent relief. In the end our survival depends on US working together as a community to keep the beautiful things we have built. I encourage you to tag, share, post, buy, recommend, ask questions about what you can do. Many small businesses are working at 25-50% capacity by law, and that does not cover the rent.
The other thing you can do is GET INVOLVED. There are things that could be legislated to help small businesses, but so far not much relief has been provided. If you have more ideas feel free to let us know!