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Kripalu Center to lay off 450 employees in latest blow to Berkshires economy

A file photo of a class at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires.
A file photo of a class at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires.Handout from Kripalu PR

Another pillar of the Berkshires cultural landscape has announced plans to lay off hundreds of employees as the coronavirus outbreak continues to upend the state’s economy.

The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health will lay off 450 of its 489 staffers on June 17, CEO Barbara Vacarr confirmed to the Berkshire Eagle on Thursday. The retreat, located in Stockbridge, will not reopen until 2021.

“As we think about the road ahead and what it takes in fixed costs to operate the retreat center, we have no line in sight into opening Kripalu this year,” Vacarr told the Eagle. Phone calls to the center were not immediately returned on Friday.

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The Kripalu campus closed March 13, just days before Governor Charlie Baker announced the shutdown of nonessential businesses statewide to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The center updated its website May 6 to note that administrators were going to “take pause and reflect on how we want to handle this situation proactively.” Staffers were informed of the layoffs on Wednesday.

With the explosion of interest in yoga and wellness, Kripalu has become a mecca not just for yoga enthusiasts, but for educators and researchers. Located in Stockbridge since 1983, the nonprofit has in recent years expanded its offerings and in 2010 teamed with researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to study the effects of yoga on physical and mental health, according to its website. The center draws about 40,000 visitors annually.

The cuts at Kripalu are another blow to the Berkshires, home to dozens of arts and cultural institutions that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, especially during the summer months. The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced May 15 that the star-studded Tanglewood Festival in Lenox would be canceled this year for the first time since WWII. Jacob’s Pillow, one of the country’s premier dance festivals, canceled its season in Becket as well, a first in its 88-year history.

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“I was shocked to hear that myself last night,” state Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli said of the layoffs at Kripalu. “I don’t know what the last straw was.”

He noted that the shuttering of Tanglewood will hit the region hard, as will the suspension of so many other summer mainstays, such as the Williamstown Theater Festival, and the ongoing closures of area museums. But layoffs at a place like Kripalu, which draws visitors year-round, could have “longer term affects,” Pignatelli said. “That’s a big hit for us.”


Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hayley.kaufman@globe.com.