Massage center raises neighbors' questions

Sunn Express Oriental Spa couldn't be less interesting, as storefronts shops in a suburban strip mall go.

The cream-colored Venetian blinds are drawn, the glass door is covered and, were it not for two yellow signs, the place could pass for unoccupied.


Many people in the residential neighborhoods around the Finksburg spa wish it were.

Sunn Express is a massage center.


It opened its doors in June, setting up shop in the Tower Center at the intersection of Suffolk Road and Route 140. The strip mall contains a child-care center, a beauty salon, a karate studio, an insurance office and a scuba and ski shop.

Within a half-mile lie dozens of single-family homes. And in those homes are parents who are worried about what goes on behind the closed windows of Sunn Express.

"Almost everybody in the community is concerned," said Carla Woycio, a mother of three who lives on Suffolk Road in the Carroll County Trails subdivision less than a mile east of Tower Center. "We just don't know what's going on in there."

She and others in the subdivision have asked state police and the Carroll County state's attorney to find out what's happening in the spa.

"Why don't these people here let us know what they are doing there?" asked Doris Edwards, a community activist who lives on Clydesdale Road. "It seems odd that this business, a new business, would do so little advertising."

Neither State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman nor the state police would confirm the existence of any formal investigation of Sunn Express.

But Mr. Hickman has -- within the past two weeks -- prodded the county's legislative delegation to introduce a massage parlor licensing law.

"I won't comment on specific businesses," Mr. Hickman said in an interview. "But some people have raised concerns over these types of establishments."


Sunn Express does little advertising, except for a small ad in the sports section of The Sun. The ad tells readers of exercise, sauna, shampoo and Oriental Shiatsu massage services.

Inside the establishment -- one has to ring a bell inside the vestibule to gain entrance -- a customer is ushered past the reception area and down corridors lined with small rooms. Inside the rooms are what appear to be standard beds, towels, rolled pillows and clinical-looking stands and shelves.

The doorways into the rooms are covered with draperies. A soft, reddish light illuminates the place, and muted music plays in the background.

Asked about what can be done for neck and back pain, a woman who greeted the customer answered that she could perform a "finger-tip" massage or a "full-body" shampoo.

The woman, who was wearing a kimono-style dress, quoted the cost of the services as $60 for an hour or $40 for a half-hour treatment.

Frederick Baumgardner of Wheaton is listed as Sunn Express' resident agent in state corporation records. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.


A woman who answered the phone yesterday afternoon at the spa passed the phone to a man who identified himself as an infrequent customer.

"Everybody here has a license," said the man, who identified himself as John Jones. "I know all of the girls who work here, and I've seen their licenses."

Maryland does not yet issue licenses for massage therapists, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Residents aren't the only ones concerned with Sunn Express, which is believed to be the first non-therapy related massage center to open in Carroll County.

Jeff Young, president of the Maryland chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association in Baltimore, said his organization has pushed for state regulation of massage therapists for nearly six years. Currently, no state standards exist for the profession, although 473 massage therapists belong to the AMTA, he said.

"We don't wear kimonos, we don't have beds and futons," Mr. Young said. "And we certainly don't have you go into a back room or make you ring buzzers to get inside," he said.


"We are here for therapeutic reasons," said Judith Eileen Myers, who owns the Westminster Massage Center and is a member of the AMTA. "We are not sexual."

Carroll would become the fourth Maryland jurisdiction to license the establishments. Only the town of Ocean City and Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties have licensing procedures in place.

Mr. Young said his organization supports placing the regulation of massage therapy under the state agency that regulates nursing and other allied health-care professions.