The Columbia Association (CA) and Still Point Spas partnered to establish Haven on the Lake, a wellness spa in downtown Columbia, in 2014. Now they are battling each other in court and it doesn’t seem a fair fight. Still Point is accusing CA of “pursuing unrelenting legal actions; CA’s strategy seems to be to ‘bully’ the Still Point into leaving, dragging out the legal process so the costs become too great for a small women-owned business to continue.”
The founders of Still Point, Tori Paide and Marla Peoples, are acupuncturists I know from when I worked at Tai Sophia Institute (now MUIH). They are heart-centered people with the utmost integrity. They are also award-winning entrepreneurs and CA wisely partnered with them for their expertise in creating a healing environment and profitable business model.
Tori and Marla shared their legal struggle with me, and while it’s their side of the story only, many of the elements are indisputable and the overall documentation seems to me compelling. I am sharing their story so that perhaps the court of public opinion might provide some support in their battle against Goliath.
The Still Point Wellness Spas Mission
The Still Point enhances wellness in our communities by providing access to the best integrative mind & body services while enabling wellness practitioners to thrive in a healthy and supportive environment.
Our highly trained practitioners are among the best in the industry and have a genuine passion for their gift of healing. We continuously strive to offer the latest in holistic skincare, massage and complementary medicine. We’re committed to offering personalized services and upholding the highest standards of customer service.
Our expertly-trained practitioners perform their services in beautiful and inviting environments. We seek to maintain an eco-friendly ethos in all aspects of the business, including Toma, a Still Point exclusive brand of personal care products free from animal cruelty, petrochemicals, phthalates, and parabens.
We’ve been voted “Best in DC” by the Washington City Paper year after year. The Still Point nurtures and inspires wellness – changing people’s lives and building healthy communities. We look forward to seeing you at The Still Point!
Summary of the Still Point at Haven situation
by Tori Paide and Marla Peoples
CA selected The Still Point to implement the spa at Haven on the Lake and CA insisted the relationship be structured as a partnership – with each party supplying 50% of the investment/work and, in return, each party would split the profit 50/50 (or share the losses 50/50).
In fact, per the President’s Report to Columbia Association Board of Directors on November 13, 2014, at President Milton Matthews’ request, Vice-President Goldman gave a Haven on the Lake update regarding membership numbers, opening dates, and the grand opening event. https://hocomdcc.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/ca-board-of-directors-_2014-11-13-1-2.pdf
In response to questions, Mr. Goldman said revenue for the facility will come from memberships, class programs, and the wellness spa.
“CA and Stillpoint will share equally in the profits and losses of the wellness spa, and CA expects Haven on the Lake to break even financially during the third or fourth year of operation.”
For the first 2+ years this relationship generally worked as agreed, as reflected in invoices and payments between the parties based on 50% of profits as reported by The Still Point. This was despite dysfunction with CA’s own Haven Management team (having gone through 2 managers and not supporting the spa as agreed), often requiring Still Point management to step in and support some functions of the other parts of the Haven facility.
The spa did unexpectedly well in year one (roughly $70,000 profit). The projection for the first year had been a negative $50,000, so CA gave The Still Point $25,000 – 50% of the anticipated loss – then took it back after profits were made. The Still Point regularly paid 50% of monthly profits and had one month in the red where CA paid them 50% of the loss; there are emails, invoices, and checks reflecting the agreed upon partnership split.
On December 10, 2015, having completed one year of operations, Dan Burns, Director of Sport and Health, reported to the CA Board of Directors that they expected the wellness spa to lose money during its first year of operations, but instead received $37,000 from its operations to date. http://podcast.columbiaassociation.org/e/columbia-association-board-of-directors-meeting-december-10-2015/
Approaching Year 3, CA abruptly shifted their stance from that of a 50/50 partnership and emphatically approached The Still Point with a take-it-or-leave-it landlord-tenant agreement. Surprised by this, the Still Point engaged legal counsel and tried to negotiate a solution in good faith.
For the past 2 years, the two parties have argued in court about the nature of their business relationship, with The Still Point arguing the existence of a legal partnership and CA’s wrongful termination of their partnership, and CA asserting the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship. CA has since engaged its own case to evict the Still Point. CA has also incrementally made managing the spa more difficult taking actions such as:
- Cutting the spa off from doing laundry in the facility,
- Cutting access to spa clients to the Healing Environments for spa guests which resulted in the spa lowering prices,
- Refusing access to KidSpace if spa guests didn’t pay a day pass plus KidSpace fee,
- Cutting off spa membership with no notice as well as Haven gift cards to be used at the spa (both have which have balances due to the spa).
CA and their counsel have consistently sought to conceal evidence of CA’s internal records reflecting CA’s adherence to the real agreement between the parties and explicitly refused to respond to discovery requests related to their partnership, without any justification. At the deposition of Rob Goldman, who is a former CA officer and has direct knowledge of the real agreement between the parties, CA’s counsel repeatedly instructed Mr. Goldman not to answer questions related to the partnership or the formation of the so-called “lease” without any justification, and Mr. Goldman refused to answer these questions.
Before the lawsuit, and in an effort to bring about an amicable resolution to its dispute with CA, The Still Point attempted to find a location in downtown Columbia out of which to operate a spa, and had gotten as far as a letter of intent with the putative landlord. Shortly after, the landlord came to The Still Point and informed them that due to its relationship with CA, The Still Point could not rent any of their downtown retail spaces.
At various points, The Still Point has attempted to negotiate an amicable solution to the standoff, with no positive response from CA. This is more than CA adopting a strategy to vigorously assert its legal position. There are emails, invoices, cleared checks, public statements, meeting minutes and more that document the CA and The Still Point partnership. The Still Point honored the partnership in good faith even after the legal standoff began. CA’s strategy seems to be to ‘bully’ The Still Point into leaving, dragging out the legal process so the costs become too great for a small women-owned business to continue.
The women behind The Still Point spas are primed to conquer the wellness market [Excerpts]
by Janene Holzberg (Howard Magazine), January 6, 2016
Five years ago, Marla Peoples made a casual remark to her husband, Dan, that turned out to be a life-changing declaration.
It was an ambitious plan to open a wellness spa with fellow acupuncturist Tori Paide that tumbled out as an “oh, by the way” remark — one that would culminate in the opening of two locations of The Still Point and the launch of a skin care line.
Paide, who is 43 and lives in Ellicott City, boils it down this way: “Our common denominator isn’t acupuncture or making jewelry,” which they sold together for a while. “It’s having the guts to take entrepreneurial risks. A lot of people have creative ideas, but that fearless step has to happen in order for an idea to become a reality.”
“We both gravitate toward people who think big and out-of-the-box,” says Peoples, a 46-year-old Elkridge resident, of the partners’ affinity for boldness in personal and business relationships.
The Still Point currently employs 75 practitioners who work as massage therapists, acupuncturists, nutrition coaches and Reiki masters.
Rob Goldman, the now-retired Columbia Association vice president who was in charge of opening Haven on the Lake, chose the co-owners to provide spa and integrative health services in the luxury waterfront wellness retreat.
“Tori and Marla stood out because they are not only creative and innovative experts in their fields, but solid business professionals,” Goldman says. “I was impressed by their energy and enthusiasm.”
Aside from the spas, . . . . Toma, their line of natural skin care and wellness products, has become one of their most promising business ventures.
Since the partners view Toma as a freestanding line, not just a Still Point spa product, it’s also sold at the Columbia Whole Foods, Cloud 9 Salon in Clarksville and Potomac Massage Training Institute in Silver Spring. They also hope to add more products this year and to place the line in competitors’ spas.
In preparation for such an expansion, they are searching for new corporate offices and warehouse space in a mixed-use facility after outgrowing their Sterrett Place location in Columbia in two years.
“Being two women business owners isn’t easy,” Peoples says. “The Howard County Economic Development Authority not only gave us a loan, they have been very supportive.”
Larry Twele, CEO of the development authority, says he’s glad the partners decided to become part of the redevelopment of downtown Columbia:
“Their passion and drive are a great example of the entrepreneurial spirit that thrives in Howard County.”
Resident Speakout, Columbia Association Board of Directors, April 26, 2018
Statement by the Columbia Association
“The original lawsuit was initiated by The Still Point, and its allegations were already heard and dismissed by a Howard County judge last year as having no merit,” said David Greisman, a Columbia Association spokesman. “The Still Point has chosen to continue the litigation, repeatedly appealing decisions that were in favor of Columbia Association. CA believes that The Still Point’s current appeal will similarly be denied. Columbia Association will not comment further at this time due to the pending appeal.”