Massage Heights in Northgate Mall closed permanently Wednesday — much to the surprise of its employees, who were left without paychecks.
"Bad timing. Bad way of doing it," said Morgan Leiper, who worked as a lifestyle consultant at the franchise massage studio since it opened three years ago.
Leiper said the business's roughly 15 employees learned of the closure Tuesday night through the massage studio's Facebook group.
She said Christina Krieger, who co-owns the Northgate Massage Heights franchise with Andrew Krieger, messaged the group's members and said "with the heaviest of hearts" the Kriegers had decided to close the business on an attorney's advice. Their assets had been seized, the message said, and the Kriegers were unable to make payroll.
That means employees are out two weeks' pay, plus a few days, Leiper said.
The Kriegers, who filed for divorce in January and live separately, were five months behind on their $7,675 monthly rent and owe Northgate Mall a total of $38,408 in unpaid rent and other costs, according to Hamilton County General Sessions Court documents.
San Antonio-based Massage Heights works on a membership model, and the company wants customers to know all services and credits will be honored at the Massage Heights at 1925 Gunbarrel Road, which is owned and operated by a different franchisee. Gift cards can be redeemed at any of Massage Heights Franchising's more than 150 locations nationwide.
However, Massage Heights Franchising can't compensate the Northgate Mall employees for their lost wages, the company said. It's collecting employees' contact information so they'll know their options for collecting pay they're owed, including how to file a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
In October, suspecting something might be amiss, employees at the Northgate Massage Heights called for a meeting with the Kriegers.
"We were led to believe everything was OK," Leiper said.
Massage therapist Tara Reed, who worked for two years at Massage Heights, feels betrayed.
"We're hurt, because we trusted them. We really trusted them," Reed said of the Kriegers.
Shanna Stevens, who had worked since March as a massage therapist and aesthetician at the Northgate Massage Heights, is worried about paying her bills.
"At this point, it's not about Christmas presents — it's about keeping the lights on," Stevens said.
Northgate Mall spokeswoman Kim Lyons said the mall is "trying to work with the tenant to make sure the employees can gain access to retrieve their belongings."
This story was updated Dec. 6 at 11:59 p.m.