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TriBeCa Yogis too Stingy for Donations-Based Studio

By Julie Shapiro | July 28, 2011 1:34pm | Updated on July 28, 2011 2:46pm

TRIBECA — A donations-based yoga studio in TriBeCa will have to begin charging for classes after too many patrons skipped out on the voluntary fee.

Elisa Chen, founder of Do Yoga Do Pilates on Reade Street, said she was surprised that her wealthy TriBeCa clientele refused to pay even just a few dollars for the Zen-inspired classes.

"You would think people wouldn't take advantage of it as much as they did. We had people walk in and pay nothing. It was really frustrating," said Chen, a Financial District resident and mother of two. 

"You pay more for a cup of coffee."

Residents of the TriBeCa zip code where the studio is located, which includes parts of lower-income Chinatown, had a median income of $112,947 last year, according to Forbes.

The neighborhood is known for being one of the toniest in the city, with median home prices clocking in at more than $2.147 million last year, Forbes said.

But that doesn't mean well-heeled residents have bothered ponying up a few bucks per class.

Chen said newcomers always started out paying the full suggested donation — $12 for an hour-long yoga or Pilates class — but as soon as they saw other people walking in and not paying anything, they stopped contributing as well.

Chen launched the donations-based system in the spring of 2010 as a way of making the stress-reducing classes more accessible to everyone during the recession. She founded the studio after getting laid off from her job in finance in 2008.

Beginning Monday, Do Yoga Do Pilates will charge $12 for a single class with a free mat rental. People can also buy 10 classes for $108 or a monthly unlimited pass for $99.

Part of the reason Chen said she's changing the model now is because she is in the process of selling the business and moving her family to Hong Kong, where her husband recently got a new job.

She's currently in negotiations with the new owner, a martial-arts company, which taking over the yoga studio and will continue offering the same array of vinyasa flow, restorative and Pilates mat classes, along with additional classes, Chen said.

Chen declined to name the new company, but she expects to make an announcement soon, once the deal is signed. She hopes to close the deal this week or next, she said.

For now, Chen is making final arrangements for the sale and the move, which she said is bittersweet for her and her family.

"We're excited," she said, "but sad at the same time."