Egea Wellness Spa closed abruptly last week, leaving customers with thousands of dollars worth of unusable gift cards and employees jobless. It reopened Thursday with a new owner, and a promise.

The new owner, Michael Duncan, tells Evanston Now that “all commitments will be honored,” which means any outstanding gift cards and prepaid spa packages are once again valid.

“I want to get people back in,” says Duncan, who has run spas in other North Shore communities.

Duncan is keeping the Egea name and services, and also says the large majority of the spa’s 25 employees are coming back.

That includes an advisory physician, because “you can’t advertise as a wellness spa unless you have a doctor.”

Previous owners Kathy and Chris Pappas shut Egea’s doors on Dec. 1, after 19 years in business.

A letter posted on a window that day, as well as texts to staff and a website statement, said COVID-19 had made it harder to find employees such as massage therapists and estheticians.

Fewer workers meant fewer hours open, which, the Pappas’ said, decimated profits.

Cathy Pappas tells Evanston Now that “we were a victim of the pandemic.”

“It was a very emotional thing” to close the spa, she says. “I created the brand. It was like our third child.”

Pappas says she and her husband Chris, who co-owned Egea, held on as long as they could, but there was no way to stay open any longer, “not unless I hit the lottery.”

Pappas says carrying losses for nearly two years, combined with other issues such as the lease, led to the “extremely stressful” decision to close.

“I did what I could do,” she adds.

The new owner, Duncan, says it’s “still a challenge” to find workers, but he’s optimistic about filling the need due to his prior relationships in the industry.

He says he did not find out about the possibility of buying Egea until after it had closed, and was not involved in the shutdown.

Duncan says a mutual acquaintance then put him in touch with the previous owners, and they hammered out a deal on Sunday, Dec. 5.

“That’s lightning speed for attorneys,” he adds, saying today was “the soonest I could open”

Duncan concedes reopening Egea is “still a risk,” but says a spa with 19 years in business should have a lot more years still in it, particularly with a lot of customers looking to come in and use those gift cards.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.