A yoga class inside Kripalu’s main building, which was originally built as a Jesuit seminary. The center announced layoffs this week totaling more than 450 workers. Photo courtesy Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

Yoga retreat center Kripalu closes for rest of year, lays off more than 450 workers

A 2018 study conducted by Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard concluded that Kripalu directly or indirectly generates $64 million to the total economic output in Massachusetts with $56 million of it concentrated in Berkshire County alone.

Stockbridge — Yet another Berkshires institution has been victimized by the COVID-19 pandemic. The nonprofit Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge has laid off hundreds of workers as it prepares for a planned reopening early next year.

Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health CEO Barbara Vacarr. Photo courtesy Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

Inquiries directed to Barbara Vacarr, Kripalu’s chief executive, were answered by the Regan Communications Group office in New York. Regan Vice President Sarah Stewart told The Edge roughly 457 individuals will be laid off effective June 17.

“This decision was made keeping the long-term preservation of Kripalu as a Berkshire community pillar, travel destination and educational institution in mind,” Stewart said in an email. “At this point, we’ve exhausted all financial options to be able to carry the cost of staff through the remainder of the year, given that we’ve also decided not to reopen in 2020.”

Kripalu originally announced it was closing on March 16 until April 24. The temporary closure was extended and online classes and workshops were offered.

In order for the center to continue day-to-day essential business functions, there will be a handful of staff — fewer than 30 individuals, Stewart said — remaining. Members of the senior team remaining include Vaccar, the chief financial officer, vice president of programming, and the director of legal affairs. All remaining staff, including members of the senior team who continue to work during the protracted shutdown, will receive reductions in salary and hours.

As for when the laid-off employees will be invited back to work, Stewart said, “The same reasons that led Kripalu to close early will be the guiding principles for reopening when it is safe and feasible to do so, which may mean reopening later than when other similar businesses in the area choose to do.”

Employees were kept apprised of the situation through weekly email and phone updates. The latest bad news, however, came in the form of a “virtual town hall” meeting in which the layoffs were announced to employees by senior management.

The Kripalu grounds overlooking Stockbridge Bowl. Photo courtesy Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

Following that announcement by Vaccar, management had conversations with every employee affected by the cutbacks. Stewart said additional resources being provided to staff during the transition include “guidance on applying for unemployment, seeking benefits, financial planning, career coaching, meditation sessions, ways of facilitating closure for the employee community, and more.”

Stewart added that following the closure of the retreat center on March 13, all staff were paid for the initial six-week period of the shutdown. The payments were extended for an additional eight weeks along with 100% of paid medical and dental insurance. The extra payments were made possible by Kripalu’s own fundraising efforts and funds from a loan provided by the Paycheck Protection Program of the Small Business Administration.

“As we think about the road ahead and what it takes given the fixed costs to continue to operate the retreat center and having no line of sight into reopening Kripalu this year, we were faced with tough decisions,” Stewart said.

The announcement was yet another devastating blow to the region’s economy, which is already reeling from the effects of the economic shutdown and recently announced season cancellations from Jacob’s Pillow, Shakespeare & Company and others.

Last week, the granddaddy of them all, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, announced that its summer season at Tanglewood, literally just around the corner from Kripalu, was canceled.

Stephen Sheppard. Photo courtesy Williams College

A 2018 study conducted by Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard concluded that Kripalu directly or indirectly generates $64 million to the total economic output in Massachusetts with $56 million of it concentrated in Berkshire County alone. Click here to read the entire study.

Sheppard also found that Kripalu attracts approximately 30,000 guests per year to its facilities and programming, and based on budget, is the fifth largest nonprofit organization in Berkshire County. Kripalu directly and indirectly generates about $7.5 million in increased tax revenues for state and local governments.

“This includes more than $2.2 million in residential property taxes paid by Kripalu guests who have purchased and maintain homes to be near to the center,” Sheppard said.

Kripalu, the largest yoga retreat center in the nation, had total revenues of more than $33.2 million in the calendar year 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Click here to see Kripalu’s IRS 990 form, which also includes the salaries of its top executives.