CAO, Owner Face Off Over Salon Lease

Posted March 28, 2011 at 6:29pm

Less than two years after opening Tides Salon in Cannon House Office Building Room 139, owner Vincent Marvaso is preparing to close its glass doors.

The Office of the Chief Administrative Officer suddenly terminated his lease, originally a three-year contract with four renewable two-year terms.

The CAO instructed the private company to vacate by April 29. But an angry Marvaso alleges that the closing is unjustified, and he’s beefing up a defense, contacting lawyers and crafting an appeal to the House Administration Committee.

“This is a modern-day witch hunt,” Marvaso said. “It’s utterly crushed my American dream and destroyed my business for no good reason. I lived up to the contract completely.”

It’s unclear whether Tides’ nine employees will be able to continue to work at the salon under another employer.

According to a letter of appeal written by Marvaso’s lawyers last week and addressed to House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), the lease was terminated on March 1 “for convenience” — not for a breach of contract.

But recent events suggest a more complex story surrounding the termination, one in which both sides are accusing each other of wrongful misconduct and failing to live up to their ends of the bargain.

The Tides-CAO relationship seems to have been rocky from the start. Marvaso claimed the office never allowed him to market the salon, denying his requests to post fliers on House bulletin boards and send them to new Members.

In a five-month span last year, 17 employees quit the salon. Marvaso said they left because of a lack of clients, specifically because Tides hasn’t been allowed to market itself. 

But a Tides employee said former employees made complaints about the salon that may have prompted a CAO inquiry.

In September, Marvaso said, the CAO counsel called him to a meeting and informed him that a former Tides employee accused him of hitting her and of racism.

Marvaso denies the incident and said he hasn’t heard a word on the subject since September. 

The employee-supervisor relationship isn’t the only problem the CAO has reviewed. According to Marvaso’s appeal letter, the office launched a series of investigations into Tides’ payroll, employee benefits and taxes in December.

“Accusations have gone from one item to another item to another item,” Marvaso said.

Marvaso insisted that he answered all the matters raised by the CAO by submitting almost 200 pages of financial records. To the CAO’s concern that Tides failed to offer health care benefits, Marvaso said he offered benefits but premiums were so high that nobody wanted the package.

As for late paychecks due to employees, another matter raised in the CAO inquiry, the fault fell on an outside payroll agency, he said.

Neither employee complaints nor financial concerns were mentioned in the termination letter.

According to Marvaso’s lawyers, the CAO’s inquiries into the way Marvaso runs his business and the review of his financial records are not authorized in the landlord-tenant contract. They said the office has been “fishing” for a basis to force the salon from the space.

“The reality is that the CAO simply wanted Mr. Marvaso gone, and, without a legal basis to remove him for default, resorted to a termination for convenience,” reads part of the appeal letter, which also was forwarded to all House Administration Committee members.

“It is all but certain that soon after Tides shuts its doors, one of Mr. Marvaso’s competitors will soon be occupying the space.”

“I personally think they don’t like Vince,” salon manager Shala Christiansen said.

The CAO refused to answer questions regarding its relationship with Tides and Marvaso or the reasons for its termination of the lease.

Last week — more than three weeks after terminating the Tides contract — the CAO distributed a survey asking staffers about how often they use various private entities including Zipcar, the House Learning Center and the Cobbler’s Bench Shoe Shine and Repair. Almost every question, however, centered on Tides, including how often staffers patronized Tides and what services they used.

Marvaso said he isn’t sure what the next step will be.

“At this point, it’s difficult for me to see how we can move forward given the loss in trust,” he said. “It’s been a blowing up of bridges.”

Alison McSherry contributed to this report.