One day last summer, an Aspen police officer took an unusual report of a possible explosive device on the Cooper Avenue mall.
It turned out to be a camera inside a fake utility box that was staked outside a business called Body Frenzy, and one of its owners told officer Mark Anderson that he believed it was part of ongoing harassment by Kristals employees, a cosmetic outlet a block away.
The person “handed me a gray utility box with orange stakes in the bottom,” Anderson wrote in the police report. “The utility box had a small hole cut out of the side, and I looked inside to see what looked to be a camera. I could see a small lens and also a blinking light.”
The business’ co-owner said he had opened the box, saw the device and “was scared it could be an explosive device,” so he brought it to the police station, the report says.
Anderson wrote that the box had been staked into the ground in the grassy area in the middle of the Cooper Avenue mall, directly outside Body Frenzy and on city public property.
“The box does not look like any equipment the [city] parks department utilizes,” the officer wrote.
The other co-owner told him that she had worked for a Kristals outlet in California for nearly three years, and she believed the Kristals owner was upset that she quit and opened her own firm that competed with her former company.
Body Frenzy, which has since closed, opened in June 2017, and Kristals employees subsequently threatened the owners with comments such as, “I am going to do everything to make you fail,” the report says.
That report, which remains open but inactive, is one of 15 that have been filed since 2016 with Aspen police about Kristals Cosmetics Aspen, mostly by disgruntled customers who claim they were pressured into paying thousands of dollars for cosmetics.
No charges have been filed against Kristals, with police deeming the matters to be civil, not criminal. But the list of reports, along with two lawsuits, show the controversy over its business practices — which led to a federal lawsuit against the city of Aspen — is not over.
“They lured me in,” said Marry Morris of Snowmass Village, who sued Kristals in Pitkin County Court in April. She said in an interview that she had been overcharged $10,000.
“This was like the spider and the fly,” Morris said. “These people are [scam artists]. They are a black spot on our community.”
A very specific settlement
Kristals Cosmetics Aspen and another store, both owned by the same company, sued the city in 2016 in U.S. District Court over free-speech issues related to the distribution of samples outside the businesses on the Cooper and Hyman malls. The sides reached a settlement last year in which they agreed on a “reasonable administrative construction” of the city code pertaining to vendors not obstructing public ways, according to a judge’s final order.
“Plaintiffs and their employees, contractors and agents shall be allowed to solicit persons passing by the front door of their stores [on the malls] for commercial purposes,” the order says. “Solicitation may consist of oral and written communications as well as the distribution of product samples, leaflets, cards and brochures.”
The employees cannot cross the doorway threshold. However, the settlement is so specific that it says they “may extend their arms and torsos past the threshold of the doorway to give such items to passersby, but the heels of both of their feet shall remain within the threshold at all times while soliciting.”
The agreement, finalized in March 2017, also mandates that the cosmetic employees are prohibited from “aggressive solicitation.” U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote that includes commercial offers “made with the intent to intimidate another person into purchasing goods or serves … it is generally understood that aggressive solicitation would include the use of swear words, threats of physical violence, unwanted physical contact in the nature of a battery, or chasing or pursing a pedestrian.”
The police reports and lawsuits do not document any such behavior. But they show some Kristals employees are walking a fine line.
Store owner fighting one lawsuit
On Aug. 12, 2017, officer Anderson responded to the report of a man “trying to hustle males into Aspen Cosmetics,” another report says. He wrote that he contacted a man matching the description of the employee, who “looked to have cosmetic sample packets” on a mall table, Anderson wrote.
“I introduced myself and asked if he worked at Aspen Cosmetics,” the report says. “The man said, ‘maybe’ …”
He later said that he did not work for the shop and, asked why he had samples spread across the table, he “continued to be difficult,” Anderson wrote. The officer asked him to stay within the footprint of the door. As Anderson walked away, the man “put his cigarette out, picked up the cosmetic samples that were on the table and walked into Aspen Cosmetics,” the report says.
Messages left at Kristals Cosmetics Aspen and with a representative who filed a detailed answer to one of the recent lawsuits were not returned.
Many of the police reports indicate buyer’s remorse, but they have been so numerous that City Attorney Jim True, in April, “requested that we document the complaints,” officer Ryan Turner wrote.
This was in response to the complaint by Morris, who later sued Kristals Cosmetics.
“They ripped me off bad,” she said. “I had to sue, and as soon as I served them [with court papers], they paid. They immediately gave me my money back on my credit card. You can’t do that to people.”
She said her experience happened around Christmastime, when she heard on the mall, “Dear lady, dear lady. I guess I was on an off day, I wasn’t feeling well, and I decided to try a cream.”
She entered the store and “five people began slapping things on my face, saying, ‘Just try this cream,’” she said. “I was stupid. I gave them my credit card for a few products I didn’t use. I’m telling you, they are predators.”
Her lawsuit, which sought just over $10,000, was settled a month later.
But Kristals is fighting another lawsuit filed in July by a Fort Worth, Texas, woman who is seeking $11,341. Olivia Kearney, also a part-time Aspen resident, wrote that she purchased “eye product after a store salesperson came out of the store and gave me a sample, and asked me to come inside for product.” She added that the product caused a severe irritation, and that she returned it and tried to cancel an order that was to be shipped to her Texas home.
She refused the items when they arrived, but alleges that she has not received a refund or credit to her credit card.
Ben Ariel, representing Kristals, answered the lawsuit in August. He wrote that Kearney’s allegation “is a classic case of buyers’ remorse,” and provided a summary of video recordings of Kearney’s interactions in the store. According to this summary, she entered the store around 5:30 on June 11 and had facial products applied. About an hour later, she told a salesman, “I don’t know that I can do it today” when she was shown a cosmetic product, and the person responded, “It’s OK, I’m just showing you.”
A few minutes later, the “sales rep offers to only charge her for the devices with a promotion applied and that the products will be complimentary for only ‘ninety-five hundred,’” Ariel wrote. “Plaintiff says she needs to get another credit card.”
After the summary of the interaction, Ariel wrote that Kearney “left the store on her own and was under no obligation to return. After trying the products, learning of the price, and being satisfied with both, she left the store to get a credit card and voluntarily came back to complete the purchase.”
A trial date in the lawsuit has yet to be set.
True, the city attorney, said he is aware of the complaints. But he said the allegations “are just not anything the city can address. And I do not have facts that would lead me to believe that the city can address them.”
Kearney also filed a police complaint in addition to the lawsuit. She “explained to me that she feels the sales reps at Kristals Cosmetics are extremely aggressive with their sales techniques and that in retrospect, she feels that she was taken advantage of,” officer Turner wrote. “Kearney was hopeful that her report to the Aspen Police Department may help others from being taken advantage of.”