A Whitestone spa has been shut down by its landlord following allegations that the business was engaged in illegal activity, such as prostitution, highlighting the ongoing issue of illegal spas operating in the community.
The business, located at 14-10A Clintonville Street, was previously marked only by a blue door with the word “SPA,” leading to stairs that descended into the building’s basement, and a phone number. The phone number and “SPA” label were removed last week and replaced by a “For Rent” sign.
Breeana Mulligan, a spokeswoman for Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), confirmed that the councilman’s office had received “a growing number of complaints from constituents about illegal activity occurring at said location,” and that Vallone had reached out to the NYPD’s “Vice” Unit, which handles cases of alleged prostitution rings. Queens Vice detective William Martino spoke to the property manager, who then shut the parlor shut down, according to a comment provided by Mulligan.
“The Queens Vice unit has dealt with this illegal spa in the past and, most recently, I personally spoke with the building owner and he assured me that the tenant from 14-10A Clintonville was removed and he was in the process of renovating the location for a new tenant,” Mulligan said, quoting a comment by Martino.
Mulligan added that Vallone’s office “is proud to have expedited this request and have this illegal spa closed.”
No arrests have been made at the site in the past year, police said.
“We are aware of community concerns and they are being investigated,” the NYPD said in a statement.
According to George Mirtsopoulos, vice president of the We Love Whitestone Civic Association, illegal spas have been an issue in Whitestone for the past few years as spas continue to pop up. Last year, the civic worked with the NYPD to shut down six spas—although most of them were shut down for illegal activities other than prostitution, such as operating without a license. Mirtsopoulos said that the civic receives tips from the community and, currently, is keeping tabs on as many as four illegal spas in the area.
“I think it’s gotten a little better, but you got to stay on top of it,” he said. “The good thing is that the community is looking out now.”
This particular spa was referenced during a recent town hall held by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Little Neck) and the civic association. A business owner located on the Clintonville strip raised concerns about this particular spa and called illegal spas “a blight in our neighborhood that is getting worse.” She explained that the spa had reopened recently after previously being shut down.
“There are illegal supposed spas and foot massage businesses that are fronts for what are really ‘happy ending’ places,” she said. “We need to end this for the safety and comfort of our patrons and to keep our community a high-quality place to live.”
The phone number on the front of the spa door and the spa’s address were listed together in advertisements on websites— such as RubMaps and Backpage— associated with erotic message listings and other illegal dealings. Many ads were listed with the name “Bill Spa” and advertised the “Best Massage In Town,” next to erotic images.
Linda Gendell is an employee at The Fitness Belle, which shares a building with the spa. She said that the spa had been a nuisance. The company’s fitness studio in the basement has a window looking out into a below-ground alley, which it shared with the basement spa. She said there had been a number of awkward confrontations with the neighboring business.
“I had a client downstairs and looked out the window one morning, it was early morning, and there were black underpants, negligees, hanging off a clothing rack,” she said.
She also claimed that girls from the spa would stand out in the alley smoking “with practically no clothes on,” which prompted many complaints from The Fitness Belle’s customers.
And confrontations with the spa’s clientele, often men, left some customers feeling uncomfortable.
“I had one particular client who was coming here across the street and there was a man, who was obviously about to go into the place and thought she was one of the girls who was working there and verbally accosted her,” Gendell claimed. “She’s still upset about it.”
Luca Antonelli, the property’s owner, told the Queens Tribune that he had not personally seen anything illegal going on at the spa, but added that when he was alerted to the situation by the NYPD and heard the complaints, he “immediately” acted to remove the tenant, less than two weeks ago.
“There were definitely complaints that something was going on illegally,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything.”
He added that he would not rent out space to a spa again.
“You never know,” he said. “These spas, they never do the right thing anyway.”
The spa was being subleased by owners associated with a nail salon, Belle Unghie, on the floor above it, Antonelli said. But he said that the nail salon was “fine” and its owners are “beautiful people” and didn’t blame them for what happened.
A representative for Belle Unghie denied having any knowledge of the spa until a post on the We Love Whitestone Facebook page accused them of being affiliated with it. The representative explained that the business has had new management since the beginning of April and is “unaware of any sublease arrangements that preceded our management change.” The representative added that the association on Facebook was “disheartening” and that the company was very upset about the accusation.
“We are under new management and because we spend the vast majority of our time in the store with our clients, it’s not possible to keep track of our neighboring stores with any scrutiny,” the representative said. “We quickly shared these concerns [on the Facebook post] with our landlord and are very happy with the swift outcome.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.