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Kripalu CEO Explains Closure During Pandemic

The Kripalu logo - white text on an orange sqaure

Kripalu, the Stockbridge, Massachusetts health and yoga center, is laying off around 450 employees and closing for the rest of 2020. Citing revenue losses during the coronavirus pandemic, Kripalu also instituted salary cuts for remaining staff. Kripalu, which has been a WAMC underwriter, has long been a magnet for tourists to Berkshire County, and will launch a takeout program from its kitchen to weather the unnaturally quiet season. CEO Barbara Vacarr spoke to WAMC.

VACARR: We shut down the retreat center on March 13th. But we were fortunate to have been able to keep everybody employed, to pay all staff, we have a staff of 489, for the initial six week period of shutdown. And then we extended that for an additional eight weeks, where we were able to, along with 100%, paid medical and dental insurance, cover staff as a result of fundraising efforts and the funds from the SBA PPP loan. And, as you know, we think about the road ahead and what it takes in a fixed cost retreat center, you know, to continue to operate the center. And having no sight line into reopening this year, we had some tough decisions that we needed to make as we took a close look at financially what it would take for us to be able to reopen again. And so we have laid off approximately 450 employees. There is a group of employees, I think it's about 31 employees, that are remaining on staff to focus on the essential operational administrative tasks that need to be maintained, as well as the continuity and connection to our communities. For example, in the online environment. We are furloughing 16 staff members, and those are the staff members that we need to bring back, you know, three months prior to reopening for ramp up once we know when we're reopening

WAMC: And at this point, when does that reopening look likely?

So with- all our models are for the beginning of the year, and again, what I will say is that the same reasons that we were one of the first to shut down in the Berkshires as a health and wellness retreat center, you know, just acting in the interest of people's health and wellness, we might be one of the last to open. But we will reopen only when it's safe to do so. And so I can't answer that at this moment other than to say that we are modeling everything for January reopen.

Do you have at this point, a sense of what kind of economic hit Kripalu has taken from this? Is there a way to quantify that at this point?

Sure. Well, I would say is that we're probably losing 90% of our revenue for the year. We are in the $36 million range of our budget, of our annual revenue. And we'll take a 90% hit.

Has there been any precedent for this at Kripalu?

This is unprecedented. There was a period of layoffs, which I can't speak in detail about, during the point of the, you know, the recession in 2000- I think it was 2009, 2008-2009. But, but this, this is really an unprecedented kind of situation because at the point that we had to shut down, we were breaking all historic records for numbers of visitors and for revenue generated and had done a tremendous amount of cultural work that had the organization really on a growth trajectory. So, it was so unforeseen and unprecedented, and that's part of the heartbreak.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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