Is This the End of the New York Yoga Studio?

On an afternoon in late July, Amy Quinn Suplina met two of her longtime employees in an airy street-front room in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to box up her 12-year-old business. Sitting on balance balls to deflate them, the three reminisced while arranging straps, blankets and bolsters for storage.

Since opening Bend & Bloom Yoga in a 1920s firehouse on a residential block in 2008, she had turned it into neighborhood fixture, providing an oasis for yogis of all levels in a striving, strident city.

But the pandemic brought all that to a halt. And after five months paying rent, utilities, and other expenses for a space she couldn’t use, Ms. Suplina decided to forfeit her security deposit and get out.

She isn’t alone. Packed indoor classes focusing on breath, touch and togetherness are not exactly happening these days. In response, yogis have embraced virtual instruction, leaving New York’s physical studios struggling for relevance. Since March, dozens of them have permanently closed, from major corporate chains to independent shops.

Many owners say the pandemic was the final straw for an increasingly untenable business, where even crowded classes could no longer cover astronomical rents. Some studios and teachers are trying to recreate themselves as online brands but face an already saturated market, where celebrity YouTube instructors have millions of followers.

Add that to an overdue reckoning with inappropriate touching and abuse at a few well-known establishments that left some students leery of in-person classes, as well as disruptive platforms like ClassPass, and it’s easy to understand why yoga studios were starting to disappear well before the coronavirus outbreak. But the health requirements necessitated by the pandemic — including physical distancing, especially indoors — have robbed studios of their lifeblood: rooms full of people.

“Our business depended on volume to survive, and now if we say instead of putting 50 people in a room the most we can put is 10 to 12, there’s just no viable way for the model to work,” said Michael Patton, who left a job on Wall Street during the 2008 financial crisis to start Yoga Vida, which had four locations in the city.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Mr. Patton was paying around $95,000 in monthly rent. He has since broken all his leases and is riding out the pandemic in an empty rural retreat he was developing upstate near New Paltz, for which he is now seeking a partner or a buyer.

“The bigger you are, the bigger the problems,” said Brian Cooper, the chief executive of YogaWorks, a national chain that permanently closed all of its New York City locations in April and is now offering online classes.

The pandemic has been equally tough on smaller studios. Nueva Alma, which Erica Garcia opened on the northern edge of the Bronx in 2012, would have been limited to seven students under physical distancing guidelines. So Ms. Garcia locked the doors for the last time on June 1 and is now teaching Zoom classes. “I’m not in it for the money, but I’m not in it to lose money, either,” she said.

Although Ms. Naomi’s new schedule hasn’t made up for her lost salary, it has kept her afloat. But marketing herself on social media requires constant hustle. Now, instead of competing with other neighborhood instructors for students, she is doing so with yogis around the globe. “You open up Instagram at any time of day and there’s somebody doing a free class,” Ms. Naomi said.

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