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State rules lead to shutdown of fish-nibbling salon at Mayfair

May 6, 2009

State officials have forced the shutdown of the fish-nibbling skin care salon at Mayfair Mall after a month of operation, the owner of the business said Wednesday.

Gerald Williamson, owner of Doctor Fish Magnifique, said he closed his business after the Department of Regulation & Licensing told him he could be fined thousands of dollars if he remained open.

Williamson said he was told employees needed cosmetologist licenses because they do such things as put sanitizer and lotion on customers' feet.

People practicing cosmetology without a license in Wisconsin can be fined $100 to $5,000 and jailed for 10 to 90 days.

A Regulation & Licensing spokesman said the department has been investigating Doctor Fish Magnifique and "communicated to the business the findings that we would be prepared to present to the secretary . . . for possible formal action."

"We are awaiting a response. We have NOT ordered them closed."

Williamson said the threat of fines amounted to a shutdown order.

"You'd be stupid not to close, because if I stay open they'll hit me with a hammer," he said.

In the shop's regimen, about 100 little Asian "doctor fish" - formally, garra rufa fish - nibble away dead skin cells on patrons' feet as they soak in a clear plastic tank.

Department officials earlier had said that people offering pedicures must sanitize equipment for each customer and questioned how fish could be sanitized.

The store's position was that it did not offer pedicures but rather offered exfoliation treatment. The salon doesn't provide nail services and maintains that its procedure isn't technically a pedicure and not subject to the licensing requirements.

Williamson is considering a move to Illinois, where he said such fish treatments are legal.

Doctor Fish Magnifique made a big splash when it opened last month, but business fell off after state officials questioned whether the procedures were sanitary, Williamson said.

"The fish are very sanitary," he said. "There are no documented cases in the world of these fish passing diseases or germs or anything."

After hearing about the store, a local salon owner raised questions about its legality, citing minutes of the state's Barbering and Cosmetology Examining Board from September 2008. The minutes say the state has been advising licensees that fish pedicures are not legal in Wisconsin because of sanitation concerns.

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