The day spa, which boasted the state’s first salt cave when it opened in early 2013, closed its doors after the building was foreclosed on.
By Ronni Newton
Elements Day Spa on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford has closed, not only leaving clients with canceled treatments but also leaving investors who claim that they are still owed significant sums of money.
The spa closed its doors for good in late August, apparently without warning to its employees or notification to customers who had appointments. The sign on the door of 945 Farmington Ave. now reads “For Sale By Owner,” Elements’ website now has only the message: “This user has elected to delete their account and the content is no longer available,” and the business’ Facebook page has vanished.
Former Elements owner Sarah Howes could not be reached for comment, but the Elements phone number is still in service and answered by a message that states the mailbox is full.
Thomas Trumbull, of Lyon Properties LLC, confirmed that he began foreclosure proceedings on the building that he sold to Howes for just under $1 million in 2012 when she defaulted on the loan. According to West Hartford property records, the building was sold to Howes in May 2012, for $950,000.
Trumbull, who held the mortgage after he sold Howes the property, said Tuesday that Howes owed “over $1 million” on the building after expenses were added and that Howes had paid “virtually none” of what he was owed.
Trumbull said Tuesday that when he sold Howes the building, “I felt as though she had a good business model.” However, Trumbull said that Howes “overspent and went through a lot of investors’ money,” and that the loan had been in default for about a year. According to court records, Trumbull began foreclosure proceedings on Sept. 25, 2013.
Bill Maher, who was an investor in the business, said Tuesday that Howes had borrowed $200,000 from him prior to opening Elements. Howes’ father was a family friend, Maher said, and she needed more funds in order to open the business. “They offered me collateral in the building, which I later learned that she didn’t have the right to offer,” Maher said.
Maher said he “had to fight for it” but Howes paid him for about six months, and then didn’t pay any more of the approximately $1,800 per month due on the loan Maher had provided. Other investors and lenders were never paid either, including Connecticut Community Investment Corporation, Maher said.
According to Maher, Howes also failed to pay $80,000 to the woman who designed and built the salt cave, Dr. Margaret Smiechowski of Rutland, VT. Smiechowski confirmed that she had only been paid “about $800” of that sum.
Both Maher and Smiechowski said that Howes had continued to sell discount certificates through Groupon, Living Social, and Amazon, as well as gift certificates, even after the building was in foreclosure. Maher said that when he called to try to have the sales halted, he was told that only an owner could cancel the account.
“People in West Hartford were coming there, and they’ve lost $100 or $200 and I feel really bad for them, but that’s only the tiniest tip of the iceberg,” Maher said.
According to Maher, bank records indicate that Howes was taking in $30,000 per month. “Nobody knows where the money went,” he said. Maher said that Howes testified during the foreclosure proceedings that she was putting the money in safe deposit boxes.
Maher also said that Howes had not finished even a year of schooling to become a massage therapist and was working as a massage therapist at Elements without a valid license from the State of Connecticut. A check of the Department of Health’s licensing records did not have her name listed among those holding a license for massage therapy.
“We’re not getting our money back, any way you look at it,” Maher said.
“It’s a beautiful spa,” said Maher, and although he said he and others have considered trying to get someone else to operate the business, they are not sure if it will be successful or worth the effort.
Trumbull said he has shown the building multiple times already and is optimistic that he will be able to sell the property without much difficulty. The salt cave is still in place in the building he said, and although it is not functional right now, he said it would “not take much” to get it working again.