When Caralyn Ann Olson went to Blaine City Hall eight years ago to let the city know she was starting a therapeutic massage business out of her home, she was surprised when she was told that she did not need a city license.
Today, any Blaine therapeutic massage business needs a city license as well as the individual massage therapists. The businesses and their employees go through background screening by the Blaine Police Department to ensure there are no checkered pasts and everyone has a massage therapy degree from a reputable school.
“It’s about accountability,” said Olson, whose INI Bodyworks and Wellness business became so successful that she was able to lease out space in a shopping mall. She now has five licensed people on staff, including herself.
Since the new ordinance went into effect, only one business owner has raised concerns at a council meeting. Liz Li Song spoke Jan. 3 about not being able to open her business that day because her massage therapist was not licensed by the city. There are about 20 massage therapy businesses in Blaine.
Blaine Police Chief Chris Olson said the school this therapist went to had had its status revoked in 2009 by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. He told the council that he tried to contact the school several times and never heard back and that the city relies on the accreditation board for licensing approval.
Song was still in business months later and declined to comment when asked for her impressions on the new ordinance.
City Clerk Jane Cross said the city had a couple of individuals that did not fulfill all the requirements because struggling to get staff licensed through accredited schools. There are sometimes language barriers, so applicants have brought in interpreters.
According to Chief Olson, there were some businesses that closed on their own, but he believes it was in the single digits.
The police department did not have to shut any down, Chief Olson said.
The businesses were informed about the new rules and given the date by which to comply, he said.
The businesses helped create this ordinance, Chief Olson said. The legitimate businesses were supportive because they did not want any negative perception, he said.
Although there were some complaints of improper behavior happening at some businesses, nothing could be substantiated, Chief Olson said.
Danielle Holten, owner of Essentially Massage, said people have asked if her business provides sexual services.
According to Caralyn Olson, they get suspicious calls that she reports to the police department.
Most try not to be too obvious, but she becomes suspicious if someone wants to come by after 9 p.m. and one person even wanted someone to stop by a hotel in Maple Grove, Caralyn Olson said.
“I’m really pleased that they now have regulations and are requiring people to have background checks,” said Holton, who has six years of therapeutic massage experience and was previously located in Anoka and Maple Grove.
The new licensing process has created a lot of extra work up front for the city clerk’s office and the police department because of the additional paperwork and background checks, according to Cross.
Caralyn Olson said Blaine does not charge ridiculous fees. However, she believes Blaine should be more strict and require continuing education.
“To me, it was a glorified background check, but I’m on the up and up,” Caralyn Olson said of the process to get a license.
While Caralyn Olson is fine with having to renew her license every year, Holten would prefer that she not have to renew her license annually because it is an additional expense, she said.
Therapeutic massage license holders are lumped in with liquor and tobacco salespeople as far as having to renew every year, Holten said.
Holten had to pay $600 for her first Blaine license and will have to pay $450 a year for the renewal license, assuming she continues to have two licensed massage therapists.
The license fees are $150 for the business and $75 per massage therapist for both the first license and at each renewal period. Background fees are $200 for businesses and $50 per person for the initial fee, but drop to $100 for businesses and $25 per therapist when the license is up for renewal. This is based on the current city fee schedule, so this could change in the future.
Besides the additional expense, Holten said the business owner assumes more risk because they may have a multi-year office space lease, which means they would be paying for something they are not using if their renewal license is denied.
No state license
The Minnesota Alliance for Licensing Massage Therapists has been lobbying for Minnesota to join the vast majority of U.S. states that already have therapeutic massage regulations.
According to the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) organization, Ohio was the first to adopt state-level massage licensing in 1916, but other states were slow to follow. By the mid-1990s, only 22 states had massage licensing statutes in place.
Today, Minnesota, Alaska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming are the only states with no state massage regulations, so it is up to city councils to adopt local ordinances.
When discussing the new ordinance at a June 2011 workshop, Cross told the council that 44 metro cities require a license.
Jeremy Miller, chairperson for both the Minnesota Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association and the Alliance for Licensing Massage Therapists, wants the state to license individuals, while cities would have the option of licensing the businesses.
The registration fee the Minnesota chapter has proposed is $287 the first year and $187 for every subsequent year an individual registers, Miller said.
Miller feels Minnesota legislators have been hesitant to pass the new regulations because they are concerned it would force some practitioners out of business. This would be a voluntarily process, but he said “this is almost a no brainer” for individuals to sign up.
The benefit of state licensing is allowing mobility, Miller said.
It becomes cost prohibitive to hold a license in each city when fees he has seen ranged from $25 to $3,500, according to Miller.
Individuals would be able to do house calls for home bound clients, work at various community events and be able to search for employment at an established business without having to get licensed in each community, Miller said.
Miller also points to Indiana and California as recent success stories in voluntarily licensing programs.
According to Miller, Indiana anticipated 500 would sign up the first year and it saw 1,800 registrations in the first three months.
California believed it would get 4,000 applications in the first five months and it saw 4,500 in the first three weeks, and has received over 80,000 applications since the state enacted this new program three years ago, Miller said.
“This is a profession that is hungry to show the public that it is legitimate, and a state backed credential is a very good step toward that,” he said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]