The proposed location of Pharaoh's Spa, 2672 E. 75th St. in South Shore. Owner Derrick Merrill is appealing a recent Zoning Board of Appeals decision that denied him a special use permit to open the spa. Credit: Provided/Derrick Merrell

SOUTH SHORE — A South Side business owner is doubling down on plans to open a spa for men on 75th Street after his proposal was rejected at a recent city hearing amid rumors his business would actually be a strip club.

Derrick Merrell is pushing to open Pharaoh’s Spa, an “upscale” massage, manicure and pedicure salon targeted to men, at 2672 E. 75th St. in South Shore. The property is vacant but previously was home to a day care.

The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied Merrell’s application for a special use permit to open under the name Pharaoh’s Gentlemen’s Spa at an Oct. 21 hearing.

Merrell is appealing the zoning board’s decision, saying several neighbors who gave comments to the board mischaracterized his business as a strip club and said they feared it would attract criminal activity.

“I’ve spent over $80,000 in there already, and I have another $200,000 to finish” buying the property per a “contractual agreement,” Merrell said. “I need to know whether or not the money I’m spending is going to work back in my favor, or if I should take a loss to go another way.”

Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) is against the spa plans, he told Block Club Wednesday. Merrell “put the cart before the horse” and did not receive a special use permit or proper licensing before he agreed to purchase the property, Mitchell said.

“No one is stopping anyone from investing. There’s a particular process and protocol you have to follow with the city of Chicago,” Mitchell said. “Ultimately, that was not followed. If that would have preceded all this action, then we may have seen a different outcome.”

Concerns about the business intensified when flyers advertising a party with exotic dancers began circulating in the neighborhood, residents said.

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The party was to be a private celebration of the spa’s grand opening, but “it wasn’t for the community and it wasn’t for the business,” Merrell said. The party never took place because the spa has not opened and does not reflect plans for the business, Merrell said.

That flyer combined with the “Gentlemen’s” label in the business’ original name sparked worries the spa — across the street from the Little Apple Seeds day care and a block from Powell Elementary and Excel Academy of South Shore — would be sexual in nature.

“If a flyer is out there advertising, ‘Strippers will be there; bring your own bottles’ and advertising a club atmosphere, the city of Chicago has a responsibility to look into that and take appropriate action,” Mitchell said. “It was a huge red flag and the city acted.”

As the controversy swelled, Merrell sought a meeting with Mitchell, who rebuffed his requests, Merrell said.

Mitchell denied he received a call from Merrell ahead of the hearing, though the two “briefly talked” last week, the alderperson said.

Ald. Gregory Mitchell (7th) listens to Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) at a City Council meeting on Oct. 26, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

About a dozen neighbors gathered Friday morning to voice concerns and hear more about Merrell’s business plan at a mediation led by Jocilyn Floyd, who is campaigning for Mitchell’s 7th Ward aldermanic seat and said she will support Pharaoh’s effort to open.

Supporters, including those Merrell invited to the mediation, said residents should welcome Merrell’s desire to invest on 75th Street.

Merrell’s push to clarify his business plans to the community should have come sooner than last week, said several neighbors who were skeptical about the spa but voiced support after hearing from Merrell Friday.

Others questioned Merrell’s choice to locate the shop along South Shore’s blighted 75th Street corridor, where nearly three in five shops were vacant, according to a 2020 city report.

“You’ve gotta start somewhere,” Merrell said. “If I feel that the area is too wild and things aren’t going good, by the capital I raise from being open, I can then move and make that decision. But it’s not a lot of people that are giving us the opportunity.”

Merrell will also drop “Gentlemen’s” from the proposed name to avoid any confusion, he told neighbors Friday.

“There should be no problem” if Merrell seeks to open a business that’s “in line with the direction of the community and has the buy-in from the community,” Mitchell said.

But Pharaoh’s Spa “is not a type of business that we would like to see in the community,” Mitchell said. “Some people would say, ‘You don’t have anything now [at the property].’ But we’re working on a lot of things, and it’s taking a lot of time to bring the businesses that the community needs and wants.”

Merrell won’t be “run … out of town,” he said.

“I’m not going nowhere,” Merrell said. “Whether it’s a spa, a cafe or just an office, [the building] is gonna be something. As far as me trying to harm this community or do anything to where I’m not looking at improving things — it’s not in me.”

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