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Upscale spa shuts its doors to clients

Meanwhile, employees of Spa Malia in Hunter's Green are told to come in and clean out their personal belongings.

By JOHN BALZ and BRADY DENNIS
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 5, 2003


TAMPA -- A sign taped to the door of the state-of-the-art spa in Hunter's Green reads: "Due to a family emergency, Spa Malia has temporarily closed."

But Daniel Murphy, brother of spa owner Michael Murphy, said Tuesday that financial difficulties closed the doors on the business, which has served thousands of customers in the Tampa area since it opened in July 2000.

The upscale spa offered gift packages in the $1,000 range. Its services included therapeutic massage, hydrotherapy, detoxification, manicures and pedicures.

Employees say they feel cheated. Many are looking for new jobs, saying they think the business is closed for good.

Daniel Murphy said Tuesday he doesn't know if paychecks will be handed out.

Some of the spa's customers also could end up angry. Murphy said the spa will not offer refunds for gift certificates if its doors shut permanently.

One person not talking is the spa's owner, Michael Murphy. He did not return calls seeking comment.

Jim DeRiso, who owns the building at 8709 Hunter's Green Drive and lives in Merritt Island, learned of the closing Monday.

"I was shocked and dismayed," said DeRiso, who wonders whether problems with the Hunter's Green Community Association contributed to the spa's closing.

He said association officials have long been butting heads with his tenants, including Spa Malia.

"This has been ugly for years," DeRiso said. "It has been a continuing harassment."

DeRiso said the association has refused to let tenants in his 10,000-square-foot building put banners up to advertise their businesses and threatened fines for nonconforming signs.

He also said spa workers and customers have been forced to use the main entrance of Hunter's Green rather than a more convenient side entrance. And he said a letter from the association last week, demanding that customers stop parking in unpaved areas, might have convinced Murphy to close shop for good.

"He was pretty upset about it," DeRiso said. "And he's a pretty low-key guy."

Hunter's Green community manager Ann Johnson said there is no relationship between the spa's closing and the association's code enforcement efforts.

"The issues that Mr. DeRiso raised are not in any way related to the spa," said Johnson, who said she gets her hair cut there. "We have an excellent relationship with them."

Employees said they think Murphy's financial situation is more likely responsible for the spa's closing.

Daniel Murphy called employees Monday afternoon and told them to come to Spa Malia's offices at 8709 Hunter's Green Drive and clean out their personal belongings.

Hair salon manager Mariann Rescigno said business appeared to be healthy but said there were hints of problems.

At a November 2002 staff meeting, Michael Murphy referred to "personal problems," said Brie Williams, a massage therapist. But he assured the staff the business would be around for the long haul, she said.

Murphy's company, Ailam (Malia spelled backwards) International Corp., is located in Lockport, Ill., where Michael Murphy owns a home, records show.

Both Murphys are originally from Illinois and moved to Tampa to work at the spa, which employs 35 people, according to its Web site.

-- John Balz can be reached at 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com .

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