City of Pawtucket shuts down massage parlor for zoning violation

City Hall, Pawtucket, R.I. (WPRI-TV)

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The City of Pawtucket has shut down a massage parlor using a work-around, as the City Council continues to work on an ordinance to shut down the rest.

Simple Serenity, located at 461 Main Street, was shut down for operating in an industrial zone.

Antonio Pires, Director of Public Safety for Pawtucket, said Simple Serenity was one of the parlors in a group the city has been aiming to close. He said the parlors operate without massage therapy licenses, and advertise in the adult entertainment section of Backpage.com.

“Massage parlors that do more than just massages,” Pires said. Eyewitness News confirmed at least four Pawtucket businesses were advertising on the website.

According to Pires, a city ordinance to close those types of businesses has stalled – leaving the city to look for other ways to shut down the parlors.

“We decided to take a look and see if, from a zoning standpoint, any of the entities were in violation. We determined Simple Serenity was, and we took immediate action,” Pires said.

The city cited the business for operating in an industrial zone and ordered it to close. Pires did acknowledge that there is nothing stopping the owner, Gina Ruggieri, from reopening in another location.

For that reason, the City Council is trying to fix its Body Works Ordinance, so the city can license and regulate massage parlors, not just the state. The ordinance passed in August, and was upheld after Mayor Donald Grebien declined to sign it. But city officials have refused to enforce it, citing legal issues with the ordinance’s wording.

Ordinance violations aren’t the only way to shut down a business that isn’t playing by the rules, but Pires says it can be a lot easier than finding enough evidence for a prostitution charge.

“These places have become a lot more sophisticated in the way they do business, they are able to make determinations about whether people are wired,” he explained.

Plus, Pires added, arresting one or two individuals doesn’t solve the overall problem of body works or massage businesses opening without the city’s knowledge or oversight.

Simple Serenity’s owner is not facing any criminal charges.

The City Council is expected to work on its Body Works Ordinance sometime next week.

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