After winning critical pretrial judgments in January, the parties in two lawsuits against a cosmetic company that operates two stores in Aspen are seeking just over $1.2 million in damages.
A Pitkin County judge is set to hear arguments Friday about damages involving California-based defendant Aspen Retail Management, the parent firm of Luxe Skin Spa and Aspen Beauty Boutique on the pedestrian malls — the latest development for the businesses that have been the subject of multiple lawsuits and numerous complaints to Aspen police.
The district court lawsuits set for Friday’s hearing, as well as two others recently filed in Pitkin County Court, allege that employees of the outlets use high-pressure sales techniques to get residents and visitors to purchase expensive makeup products and beauty devices of dubious efficacy; possibly drugged one couple through glasses of champagne and pressured them into spending thousands more than they wanted; and lied about working with celebrities such as the singer Pink.
In filings for damages submitted last week, Aspen attorney Chris Bryan, representing Dean and Kim Reeves and, in a separate lawsuit, Cheron Berastequi, described the fallout from his clients walking by the stores, being enticed in with free samples and then bombarded by “an alarming pattern of abusive conduct perpetrated by” the defendants.
After walking into the shops, customers were often separated from their companion, trapped in the corner of the store or a back room of the store, and psychologically manipulated “with an all-out barrage of insults and compliments about their appearance,” Bryan wrote.
Other accusations in the lawsuits were that employees:
used hand gestures and body language that made the victims feel that they were physically trapped in the store;
performed demonstrations on victims to show the “efficacy” of the products, the results of which inevitably wore off as soon as the victims left the store;
and falsely represented that the sales attendants were the beauty consultants for different pop icons, usually using the names of celebrities who were visiting Aspen at the time.
The Reeveses and Berastequi prevailed, leading to the filings for damages, after Aspen Retail Management failed to answer their lawsuits in a timely fashion. Bryan then moved for and received default judgments in each case. The company’s general counsel, David Beitchman, argued in a filing that he had tried to consult with Bryan and didn’t believe a formal response was necessary at that point. Judge Anne Norrdin of Pitkin County District Court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor in March, finding that Aspen Retail Management (ARM) failed to provide a reasonable excuse for why it never answered the litigation.
Beitchman, who could not be reached for comment about the latest filings for damages, said in March that his client may appeal.
The lawsuits accused ARM of violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act for allegedly engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices, according to one claim. Other claims included assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Dean and Kim Reeves entered the Hyman mall shop last summer. They were each given a glass of champagne that may have been drugged, as they soon felt “very confused and out of sorts,” the lawsuit says. Employees began applying creams to their faces, against the couple’s wishes, though “they were unable to refuse the demonstrations because they were so out of it, and the store attendants were so aggressive,” Bryan wrote.
The couple provided a credit card and then filled out a shipping form in order to “escape the store and the high-pressure sales tactics employed,” the lawsuit says. Once outside, they called the store repeatedly in an effort to cancel the order, which totalled nearly $22,000. The plaintiffs thought they were buying $700 worth of products.
In Berastequi’s case, her lawsuit says she went into Aspen Beauty Boutique in September after being offered an eye-cream demonstration, and decided to purchase a product. An employee allegedly pressured her into buying a $9,000 light-therapy machine. Berastequi repeatedly told the employee that she could not afford it, but feeling increasingly uncomfortable and looking to leave, she handed over her credit card, confident her credit card company would decline the charges because of her credit limit.
But the employee said the charge went through without a problem — with one difference: He had charged her $21,000, Bryan wrote, adding she was unable to cancel the charge.
The Reeves are seeking economic and noneconomic damages, plus attorney fees, that total just under $600,000. Berastequi is seeking $619,401. The plaintiffs’ lives have been impacted physically, mentally and emotionally, Bryan wrote, adding the Reeves were forced to empty their savings account to pay for the “fraudulent charges so as not to pay exorbitant credit-card fees.”
Two separate lawsuits in county court against ARM are pending.