Parents say the owner of an Apollo Beach dance studio took their money and closed up shop with no warning. Dozens of Bay Area parents say their children are now left heartbroken, with nowhere to go.
The South Shore Rising Stars dance studio suddenly closed in June. Parents say they paid up to hundreds of dollars for services they say the studio’s owner, Caitlin Benedict, never delivered.
“You could spend time with your friends, and you can learn new moves every day,” said 9-year-old Davany Villnave, who studied dance for about two years at the studio.
She says was excited about going to summer camp there.
“I was going to learn my back handspring, and I was getting ready to do that,” Davany said.
But when it was time for camp to begin, the doors to the studio were locked.
“Lo and behold the owner disappeared,” said Josalyn Villnave, Davany’s mother.
“There were people who were going to go to summer camp and showed up on the doorstep, and she wasn't there,” said Carey Bishop.
Caitlin Benedict closed her dance studio days after a June recital. Dozens of parents paid for DVDs of the recital they didn't get because the videographer says Benedict didn't pay him.
Even more, landlord has sued her for nearly $13,000 for unpaid rent.
The Villnave family said they paid $160 for the camp, but never got any money back. Carey Bishop says she paid $400 for costumes her two daughters never got.
“It was my 5-year-old that all she really wanted to do was wear a costume and to be on stage. And at that age, it's very difficult to explain what has happened,” said Bishop.
Within days of closing the studio, Benedict was soliciting new students for her new studio in Athens, Ga., on Facebook.
“My husband and I are small business owners in this town ourselves, and I can't imagine just letting our customers pay us for services and then moving to another town and starting the same business there with all their money,” said Josalyn Villnave.
Benedict told us late Tuesday she has paid everyone she owes, but will double check her accounting to make sure that's the case.
She said she had no record that the Villnaves ever paid her for the camp.
Benedict says she paid the videographer in full, and the reason the families didn’t get their DVDs is because he refused to ship them to her.
She says she was unaware of the lawsuit filed by her landlord last month, so she couldn’t comment on it.
Benedict also supplied us with a copy of the contract Carey Bishop signed, in which it said costume costs were non-refundable.
Davany Villnave didn't go to any camp this year, because her parents couldn't afford it.
“I was thinking she was a really nice lady, and I don't know why she would do that,” Davany said.
Parents told us they initially contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to report the missing money, but were told it is a civil matter. Since each case only represents a maximum of a few hundred dollars, most parents say they'll most likely not pursue this in court.
Julie Kenny, who operates Julestarz Academy, is opening a new location at the former South Shores Rising Stars site next week.
She says her business is offering a free month of classes to students whose parents paid for camps or classes they didn't receive.
Her studio has been open for 11 years at two other locations.
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