Patti Wiederer calls it an expensive “lesson in life.”

Wiederer and a few family members have five or six hundred dollars worth of gift cards for the Egea Wellness Spa in downtown Evanston.

Just a few days ago, Wiederer and her son talked of using those cards to pay for “relaxing massages.”

“It was probably a good time to go to Egea,” Wiederer explained to Evanston Now.

But before those massages could be scheduled, Egea closed its doors for good, the owners posting a letter on the window on Dec. 1, thanking customers for 19 years of business, and blaming the COVID-induced employee shortage for the shutdown.

Wiederer knows there is little chance she and her family members will get their money back.

“I think my son was most disappointed with the way they got the information on the closing,” Wiederer says about the out-of-business letter posted at the spa.

And the Wiederer family is not alone. There are many angry Facebook posts from Egea customers who are wondering what they can do.

The answer is not much. There are ways to try to get a gift card refund if a store shuts down, but according to Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs, “Businesses that close likely will not honor an outstanding gift card.”

According to the Better Business Bureau, “When you buy a gift card you are essentially giving the company a loan until you redeem the value.”

The BBB says the owner of a closed business is still responsible for providing such value, but “gift card holders will unfortunately find themselves out of luck or with limited options.”

One option which might succeed is to contact your bank, if you bought the gift certificate or spa services package using a credit card. You could ask the credit card company to cancel the payment, as long as the gift certificate was purchased recently.

Customers can also file complaints with the Better Business Bureau, or with the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

Those agencies might try to resolve the issue, but there is no guarantee of success.

Another option, filing a lawsuit against a small business which has closed, is not only a shot in the dark, but would also probably cost more for a lawyer than you would recover if you win.

But if Egea’s gift card customers are out a few hundred dollars apiece, the store’s former employees are out of a job.

One such worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, says the closing “came as a huge shock,” as the spa had just put up “Now Hiring” signs a few weeks before.

The worker says she found out about the shutdown after a friend walked by Egea, saw brown paper covering the windows and contacted her.

The now-former employee says she then called the spa, and heard a voice mail message about the closing. She says she later received a text from the owner regarding the shutdown.

Another former worker is also upset, not just about the closing, but about the way it was handled. This employee, who also requested anonymity, says, “There was not even one day’s notice.”

“Everybody valued the work they were doing,” the former staffer says of her colleagues.

Gift cards are, of course, just like cash, with one major exception. Cash does not expire. Gift cards do, or, in some cases like Egea, the company itself expires.

“Resist the urge to save the card for a rainy day,” the state treasurer says. Set cash aside for the future instead. Use the gift card first.

Two other local spas, Salon Lamia and Elite Esthetic Center, have said online that they are offering discounts for new customers who have an Egea gift card.

Evanston Now has reached out to the owners of Egea, Chris and Kathy Pappas, but we have not heard back.

Update 6:45 p.m.: Co-owner Kathy Pappas this evening told Evanston Now that “Closing the Spa was one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make.”

Pappas says the COVID pandemic impacted the labor market beyond what anyone could have imagined, “and sadly, we were forced to close.”

Pappas adds that “Up until the very last minute, we did everything we could to find employees to continue servicing our customers.”

She adds that “We are working as quickly as we can to address business affairs and will be updating our website shortly.”

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