Inside Eastover's efforts to be more than 'a regular resort'

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LENOX — With the 10th anniversary marking her family's purchase of the historic Eastover resort approaching, Managing Partner Yingxing Wang is doubling down on her mission to create a sustainable, nonsectarian holistic center for teaching yoga, acupuncture, qi gong and tai chi health, fitness and energy-enhancing practices.

Interviewed at her scenic mansion off East Street, Wang also emphasized her mission of community programming to attract area residents as well as visitors to the 15 buildings in use at the 90-room, 270-bed property.

Eastover is a far cry from the area's more expensive wellness-oriented, high-end resorts such as Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Canyon Ranch and Hyatt's Miraval Berkshires, set to reopen in May on the Cranwell property.

By contrast, she said, "Our prices are so cheap. By providing room and board services at an affordable price, we're trying to accommodate teachers and organizations."

Open to all

While Eastover hosts yoga, acupuncture and Chinese medicine teachers and their tuition-paying students on limited budgets, Wang said the facility also is open to organizations specializing in Christianity or Jewish teachings. "We're not affiliated with any specific religion, we're open to anybody," she said.

Asked whether the sustainable, self-supporting, private for-profit business model has been successful, Wang responded, "I don't think so, partially because we charge so little, compared to others. The deal is that my family is supporting it, because the money we bring in doesn't cover operating expenses."

In addition, there are investment and interest costs in the millions, including building a biodegradable wastewater treatment system, which remains incomplete.

But the gap between income and expenses "is not huge or horrendous, so it's not out of control," Wang said. The property is not in the market, she noted, adding that "we would not sell to anyone who wants to develop the place and make a huge profit."

But she did not rule out considering a partner aligned with her mission. "Otherwise," she said, "I don't think we are interested. All I want is to cover the expenses."

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A learning curve

Since she's about to turn 59, Wang said, "When you come to a certain time of your life, you realize money and all of that is not important anymore. We're all going to die, and what are you going to do with the money?"

Furthermore, running Eastover has required ascending a steep learning curve.

"I didn't come from a business background," she said, "so working at Eastover was taking on a task, and it helped me understand a lot more about myself, my relationship to the world and with the land, the forest and nature. It was a self-exploratory journey, very fulfilling and satisfying. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I had just stayed home to be a rich wife."

Born six years before China's Cultural Revolution launched by Communist leader Mao Zedong, Wang immigrated to the U.S. in 1985 in her mid-20s. She considers her Eastover project "an opportunity to come out of what was a very distorted time period in China's history. There was a lot for us to work through."

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Not a regular resort

Several years ago, she renamed the property overlooking October Mountain State Forest as the Eastover Estate and Eco-Village because "people had this concept of a resort in their head. When they came, they expected drinking, parties and things like that. We had people getting drunk in their rooms, yelling at us and behaving so badly. But this place is very meditative and quiet, and certain people were just not used to it."

As a result, Wang wanted to emphasize that "we are not a regular resort."

"The old Eastover resort" bought by George Bisacca for $41,000 in 1946 "was very, very different, so first we called it Eastover Estate and Retreat, but people didn't get it," she said.

Wang's daughter suggested the current rebranding to convey the correct impression. Soon, she said, "We did notice a huge difference."

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The original century-old, 405-acre property was purchased in February 2010 for $5.4 million by HG October Mountain Estate LLC (Wang and her husband, Gudjon Hermannsson, of Renaissance Technologies Corp. in New York City) from Dorothy "Ticki" Winsor, daughter of longtime owner George Bisacca and Betsy Kelly, Bisacca's granddaughter. The purchase price included $1.8 million for personal property, fixtures, furnishings and an adjacent parcel.

But the total investment is estimated at more than $20 million, including the ongoing cost of renovations and infrastructure upgrades.

The family bought two adjacent farms to the north of Eastover's 430 East St. site, bringing the total acreage to just over 600. "We might have other uses" for the additional 164-acre and 40-acre parcels, Wang said, though there's nothing specific planned.

Eastover primarily serves groups, accounting for more than 90 percent of its business, although individuals also are accommodated.

Room rates are highly seasonal, ranging from $100 to $130, double occupancy, plus $65 per person per day for meals, from late November to April.

During May, June, September and October, weekday room rates are from $125 to $150, double occupancy, plus the $65 per person daily meal charge. Weekend rates are $150 to $180 per room, plus meals.

High season July and August rooms go for $150 to $170 on weekdays, and $170 to $220 on weekends, plus the food charge.

Eastover is also developing long-term study programs with discounted rates, Wang noted.

"I'm only the caretaker and steward for such a big property," she added. "I'm trying to keep it pristine, which is a big task. We've made good progress, but of course we definitely made a lot of mistakes too. I had no experience with contractors, and we've been cheated left and right. We don't know basic things about business, and we had to learn about that."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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