All parents throughout New York, locals and tourists alike, should know about the educational and transformative experience of the Children's Museum of Manhattan. The 83rd Street institution, although it opened in 1973, has been at its current location since 1989. It is an extraordinary (not to mention really fun! ) resource for both kids and adults. I happened to visit during the week that constitutes winter break for New York schools, and so I witnessed an incredible amount of excitement and enthusiasm on each of the floors. Children as young as a few weeks old were in their mother's arms or being pushed in a stroller while their siblings were running around, checking out the interactive exhibits. Almost every aspect of the museum had something to push, touch, or listen to, giving children a tactile way of learning and remembering. I received an eye-opening tour from David Rios, the Director of Public Programs, who guided me from the fifth floor back to ground level. An exhibit called Playworks, designed for early learning, is located upstairs. For more than ten years, the museum's team worked side by side with child development experts to create a space where little ones can enhance their motor skills and problem-solving abilities. I enjoyed standing on the sidelines and observing children climbing in and out of a large wooden FDNY truck, a NYC bus, and a deli with plastic foods. As David explained, "Some museums have a supermarket, but we're in New York, so we have a deli. "I was amazed by how often the museum catered to varying age levels within the same space. For example, in the Movers and Shakers section, older children could learn math and physics by building mini roller coasters while younger siblings could crawl through tunnels and slide down slides. I was delighted to see parents participating with their children: this is definitely a museum where entire families can enjoy themselves, and children's learning is enhanced by parental guidance. Though there are plenty of buttons that encourage children to learn on their own, there is also signage so that parents can provide a further explanation to their kids. The museum is designed so that parents and older children do not feel intimidated or shy about trying out the different exhibits. As David stated so nicely, "This is a fun, non-judgmental environment for all ages to learn. "Continuing on, I entered The Lab, where children can read stories, sing songs, and learn more about art and science. All of the writing and sound bites are bilingual, since Spanish-speaking families make up such a significant portion of New York City's population. David told me that The Lab sometimes holds special events, such as a visit from members of Alvin Ailey, who danced with the children in an effort to teach them about movement. The next room took Peek-a-Boo to a whole new level with a digital version of the game and in the following room, I had to laugh out loud as I explored the digestive system, complete with a talking toilet. The grand finale of the tour was the America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far special exhibit that is running from February 2016 - February 2017. The visually compelling exhibit is a multimedia exploration of the diversity of Muslim cultures within the United States and abroad. It is a collaboration between the museum's staff and members of the Muslim community and is an ingenious way of introducing children to topical cultural differences in an age-appropriate way. For example, there is a section where kids can press buttons to smell a variety of fruits and spices, as well as a collection of "Objects and Stories from American Muslim Homes. " Some other highlights included a life-size camel, musical instruments, and a virtual reality room that allows visitors to explore the architectural styles of different mosques. I was pleased to find out Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the exhibit. He has stated, "With America to Zanzibar, children will have the chance to learn about Muslim cultures in an engaging and thoughtful way. We only grow stronger when we embrace and celebrate the multitude of cultural backgrounds that make up New York. "
As Master Teresa Throckmorton guided me through Central Park Taekwondo and invited me to take off my shoes, I was struck by how immaculate everything was. "I make sure it's very clean, " Teresa told me, and took me past a group of women practicing the martial art to a smaller studio separated from her office by a glass wall. There were toys on the floor from the camp program that had just left, as I was visiting during the summer months. "It's a real community, " Teresa said, telling me about the different options for all ages. "People come and they don't want to leave. "Teresa is a typical New Yorker in her impressive use of space. Along with the smaller studio in front of her office, the main room has partitions that can be dragged across to create smaller spaces. She has seven full-time instructors who have been doing taekwondo for most of their lives. She proudly told me that she offers each of them benefits, vacation, and sick leave. The glass that separates her office is covered with words in red: "courtesy, " "integrity, " "perseverance, " "self-control, " and "indomitable spirit. " These are the central tenets of taekwondo, a word that means "the way of the hand and foot" in Korean. Teresa explained to me that taekwondo is not just a physical practice, but also a mental one. As a fifth level black belt, she is a well-qualified teacher (Any degree above fourth indicates someone who has dedicated his or her life to teaching martial arts). She grew up with brothers in an active family on a farm in Virginia, and so she was introduced to a series of sports before landing on taekwondo as her passion. She has also introduced the martial art to her children. I met eleven-year-old Caden, a black belt who has been studying taekwondo since he was two years old, though he now splits his time between martial arts and baseball. Teresa's eight-year-old son is also a black belt and her little girl is a third degree red belt. "It was never a choice for them, " Teresa said with a grin. As for Teresa, she is still training. A certain number of years must pass before you can increase your belt degree, but Teresa proudly told me, "By the time I am seventy-six years old, I will be ninth degree black belt grandmaster. "Teresa makes sure that everyone in Central Park Taekwondo - and in her family - is certified through the Kukkiwon Taekwondo World Headquarters, so that their belt status is recognized everywhere. She also follows the rules of the World Taekwondo Federation School whenever her students compete. However, taekwondo is not just about gaining belts and competing. Teresa believes that taekwondo can be beneficial to anyone, even those who have never participated in sports. "What I love about this place, " she told me, "is that you can come with no experience and end up a black belt one day. " She also told me that taekwondo helps people with challenges such as ADD or ADHD, since it can build mental discipline and self-confidence. "A lot of therapists suggest taekwondo, " Teresa informed me. Teresa especially suggests the martial art for children, since taekwondo helps teach principles of respect and builds a foundation of physical concentration. Teresa is very pleased with the fact that she has gained so many students in such a short amount of time. She opened Central Park Taekwondo in August of 2011 after training and working at another school in the area for seventeen years. The studio has been expanding ever since, with students traveling from Harlem and Brooklyn. "We're hoping to buy a new building, since we have grown really quickly in four years, " Teresa said. She wants to remain on the Upper West Side, where people can find her. The only advertising she uses is word of mouth and the sandwich board outside, which reads "They say you kick like a girl, you say thank you! " When I expressed my approval, she let me know that the school is split evenly between men and women, which is unusual for a martial arts studio. "I think it's because I'm a female owner, so people feel connected to me, " she said. She is very proud to have created such a tight-knit community. As I was leaving, she told me, "Our intention is to make anyone who walks in feel welcome, empowered, and strong. "
After over forty years of being the iconic toy store on Amsterdam Avenue, West Side Kids has moved into a space right around the corner allowing it to join our illustrious group of side street businesses. It’s wonderful to see the family friendly business is staying within the neighborhood that is sadly now full of chain stores. Along with the move comes a rebrand for the charming shop to a more modern brand identity but inside the shop are still the many familiar shelves of goodies. Now owned by Jennifer Bergman, the West Side Kids was founded by her mother, Alice, in 1981. “Every toy is chosen for its educational value, ” explained Jennifer. Not only are educational toys available but fun kits to make treats and explore whimsical hobbies are equally front and center. As you walk around the store seasonal items like pool floats can be found near seaside and pool play accessories. A table with chairs for pintsize patrons sits close to books about famous women icons – singers, politicians and lawyers. Various items to ease the transition back to school also stand out to shoppers of various age groups. Whether you’re looking for a small toy, a statement shirt or a pair of fun socks, the helpful staff is ready to assist you or leave you to wander around the comprehensive selection of reasonably priced items and find things on your own. One of the standouts of the shop is the fact they are inclusive in their offerings; from dolls with assistive chairs to storybooks focusing on people of different backgrounds. West Side Kids continues to be toy experts for children of all ages.
Congregation Rodeph Sholom was preparing for its 175th birthday when I visited in 2016. The guard at the front desk was kind enough to allow me in and notified Barbara Zakin, the director, that I was interested in learning more about their magnificent temple. I was grateful that she immediately came downstairs to greet me and led me into the sanctuary. It was a breathtaking sight to behold. Seeing the expression on my face, Barbara simply stated, "They don't build buildings like this anymore. " She then went on to tell me that they are "one of the 'Big 5' largest Reform synagogues in the city" with 1800 members. Formed on the Lower East Side by eighty members from Bikkur Cholim, the congregation moved to several different locations before constructing their current building in 1930. Though the congregation started out orthodox, like most nineteenth century synagogues, it transitioned to Reform in 1901. After allowing me a few minutes to stand inside the grand sanctuary, Barbara was then eager to show off the rest of their space. As she described it, "There is a hub of activity going on throughout the building on any given day. " They have a book club, mahjong, theater productions, a Jewish Day School, a homeless shelter, and, she added proudly, "We have even had the same rabbi for twenty-five years. "A few weeks later, I returned with members of the Manhattan Sideways team. On this day, we met with Rachel Evans, the operations director, who gave us a more extensive tour, stopping in a wood panel room, known as the Leader Board Room. Rachel enjoyed telling us that the space had been scouted by various TV shows, including "30 Rock, " who filmed several scenes in the room. We then continued on to the Schafler Room, an event space used for a variety of purposes. The school children utilize the room for recess, and there is a stage where the synagogue puts on a performance each May. The musical series was in its eleventh season after being revived in the mid-2000s and the synagogue was looking forward to "Seussical the Musical" in the spring of 2016. Rachel informed us that the space is also very popular with nonprofit organizations. Galas, auctions, and dinners have all been hosted here, as well as private celebrations such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Continuing our walk, I admired a survival torah mounted on the wall, which Rachel said had been rescued by a Czechoslovakian family after World War II. At our final destination within Rodem Sholom, I found myself standing in the balcony of the sanctuary gazing down in awe, yet again. Turning to Rachel, I commented, "I do not believe that there is a bad seat in the house. " She agreed wholeheartedly.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral is led by a man who shares a name with the church’s own saint: Volodymyr. Pastor Volodymyr Muzychka greeted us at the door to the church, tucked underneath the façade’s wide balcony, dressed in religious robes that gave him an air of beneficence. Despite the language barrier, the pastor could not have been more charming as he led us through the halls of this magnificent church. Volodymyr came to New York from the Ukraine in 2011 and lives within the walls of the cathedral with his family. He told us that he only allows the heat to be on during the winter months for a half an hour in the morning and again at night, despite the frigid temperatures. Smiling, he said that he likes it this way. Since there were no services on the day that we visited, the cathedral building was cool, dark, and serene. We first stopped in to look at a large party room. The hallway leading to it was lined with portraits of influential religious Ukrainian figures. Next, Volodymyr took us up to the sanctuary in an elevator dating back to 1937. The smell of incense greeted us as we stepped into the sanctuary, lined with stained glass. Volodymyr explained that the building was first constructed in 1894-96 to be a synagogue by noted New York architect Arnold W. Brunner and became a church in 1958. We walked up the stairs to the choir loft, which gave an even grander view of the space. I have met many warm and fascinating leaders of both churches and synagogues over the past several years walking on the side streets of Manhattan. Pastor Muzychka touched my heart in a way that no other has, thus far.
The story, or shall I say, the saga, for Gerald and his wife, Peggy, might be the most moving one that I have heard from business owners on the side streets of Manhattan. Enduring multiple setbacks and disappointments - both in New York and Paris - the loving couple nevertheless pursued their ultimate dream of opening a pastry shop. Through determination, separation, and very hard work, in 2017, the two have finally opened their doors to the Upper East Side bakery, Miss Madeleine. Gerald and Peggy Hudeau left Guadeloupe in 2012 with the goal of coming to the United States to begin a new life by opening their own company. With five children in tow, they were forced to stop in Paris to obtain their visas. It took over one year to receive this visa, however, it was only granted to Gerald. He chose to come to New York, on his own, in the hopes of filing the necessary paperwork and getting a license to open a food business. Knowing absolutely no one in New York, and having little money, Gerald found some odd jobs and continued with his efforts to secure a space for the bakery and to do whatever was necessary to bring his family here. After three denials from the US Embassy in Paris, while continuing to pay rent on a potential property in East Harlem, Gerald decided to "fight" on his own, without the help of a lawyer. He filed all of the necessary paperwork again and went for another appointment at the Embassy in Paris. "My God, this time I got the visa, but for only six months. " He, once again, had to leave his wife and kids in Paris because the immigration agent told him that he had to prove that he could provide for everyone before they would be allowed to enter the United States. Arriving back in New York, he found an apartment, took classes to get a food protection certificate, and prepared the necessary licenses for the bakery. Returning to Paris he received the visa as an investor for five years. He made the return trip alone, yet again, to New York. As Gerald related to me, "When I got here, I was obliged to close the store that I had rented in East Harlem, and terminate the contract of very good employees. I was crying in my apartment with only a sofa to sleep, without TV and something to eat. I tried to stay strong by working for another business to get some funds and to get my wife and one daughter in New York first. "Here comes the good news, Gerald said to me, "I was able to have the visa for my wife and my daughter. With my wonderful wife, we tried to open again La Mulatresse Corp - the company that we had begun back in 2012 in Guadeloupe. Both from white and black parents, we created La Mulatresse Corporation, but we closed the property after an explosion of the building's boiler in my basement. "Gerald immediately looked for work. He found this in a large American company, where first he was a laborer, then a shift leader, then an assistant manager and, ultimately, the General Manager. "One of the best days was when all of my kids arrived in New York - in 2015 - and Madisson, my daughter, was again with her brothers and sister. " Gerald went on to say, "We spent a long time with dark days, wondering if it was a good idea, thinking about the kids and their future while fighting with the bills and debt. "Peggy was able to find a job at Canele by Celine, the former bakery here on East 82nd Street. Gerald shared, "When Celine saw the magic in the kitchen, she decided to make a business with us by buying some of our products and asked me to be her General Manager. "This is the point in the story when I had the extreme pleasure of meeting this outstanding man and his wife. We organized several events together, and I was most impressed by how professional Gerald was in representing Canele by Celine, and how kindly he treated his staff and each of the guests. What was overwhelmingly acknowledged by everyone was the exquisite French pastries being served. After one year of working very hard in the small kitchen turning out wondrous creations, Celine decided that it was time for her to turn over the operations to Gerald and Peggy to fulfill their own personal dream. It was a long and difficult road to travel, but the beautiful couple has finally found their destiny. Miss Madeleine has opened its doors to their loyal neighbors, who have returned to support them and to eat their variety of delectable sweet and savory food. "We hope to continue to show people the best of French pastries in an authentic French setting. "
This shop grabbed my attention the second I stepped inside the door and smelled the scent of fresh sawdust. As he guided me through the expansive workshop, John Wolf stated, “We’re the secret that’s not a secret, ” adding, “Everything is custom: I never make the same piece twice. ”John is a seventh generation woodworker. The family business began in the 1800s near Munich, Germany and remained in Europe until John’s father came to the United States in 1956 with a set of carpentry knives. John vividly remembers coming into work with his father as a child and being delegated the glamorous jobs of sweeping and cleaning the toilet. He knew from a young age that he would be the one to take over the family business. As he told me, “I am the hands of the family and my brother is the brains. ” His first proper job at his father’s company was as a truck driver, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He soon worked his way up to installer and foreman. He did not want to go to college, preferring to work, but in hindsight, he is glad that his father insisted that he go to Parsons School of Design. John eventually took over from his father in the late 1970s. With such a substantial amount of history in the neighborhood, it is no surprise that Little Wolf has become a household name. “We’re already doing kids’ kids’ kids’ kids’ rooms, ” he said, counting out the four generations that have passed through his doors. He mentioned that he loves working on children’s rooms, because they always know exactly what they want and have big dreams about how things should look. He often has customers who come by and tell him “I still have my room that your father made for me in 1973. ” The family business’s longevity is partly thanks to good policies: John does not use any formaldehyde or MDF and gets most of his wood from Canada. All of the painting is done on site, once a piece has been custom fitted. Guiding me through the first of four main spaces, John showed me a painting on the wall done by the artist Peter Max. It depicted John’s father in the workshop, surrounded by swaths of color. Between John and his father, the Wolfs have done a wide variety of jobs throughout the city. “I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot. ” When he was first starting out in the business, John would make “show-off” pieces when he did not have too many orders. He called these experimental sessions “play time. ” Though he wishes he had more “play time, ” he is happy to be so busy and enjoys the projects that come his way. Quoting the Navy slogan, John said, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure. ”I asked John why the business was called “Little” Wolf. He smiled and answered, “It’s basically named after me. ” He went on to explain that when his mother was pregnant with him, friends of his father said, “Here comes another Little Wolf. ” Even after having been part of the business since (literally) birth, it was clear to me that John still loves what he does. I was curious to know if the family business would continue into the next generation. John has two young daughters, but says that he will not push them. “They have to want it. ” He feels very strongly about family-owned businesses, however, saying, “You can’t buy anything with real value if it doesn’t come from a family. A family really cares. ”
I had been told about Salon Riz by several people who live on the Upper West Side. They raved about Mike Riz’s space and told me that it cultivated a comfortable, relaxing environment unlike any other - "a visceral experience" is how Lisa, at the nearby women's boutique, Pachute, describes her time spent here. Still, I was surprised by the warm, rustic salon that greeted me when I came through the door. It felt more like a garden patio with its little mossy birdhouses and strings of postcards decorated with grasses. Flowers and botanicals met my eye wherever I looked and a central table was filled with treats including fresh brewed tea with honey, cookies, crackers, and pretzels. Examining the offerings more closely, I spotted a bottle of Disarono and removed the lid of a plate holding healthy, gluten-free “Aussie bites. ”Mike’s story of immigration to Manhattan is fascinating (and an example of why I so love to walk and meet the people on the side streets). Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, he originally wanted to be a jewelry designer, but did not have enough money for materials. Instead, he turned to hairstyling. He swept the floors in a Beirut hair salon for the equivalent of $3 per week and miraculously managed to save enough money to pay half the tuition to go to beauty school. The school wanted to refuse him admittance because of his lack of funds, but Mike persuaded them to let him work as a janitor at night in order to pay off the rest. He graduated and started making a name for himself as a hair stylist, catching the attention of Lebanese celebrities. He moved to New York in 2004, but is still sought out by old Lebanese clients traveling in the area. Mike worked on the Upper West Side for ten years before realizing his dream. Today, he has some college age clients who have been coming to him since they were children. I, too, have become an immediate fan. I walked out of the salon after my first visit knowing that I would not be going anywhere else again. In addition to brightening up my color and giving me an outstanding haircut, I was totally taken by the ease with which Mike and his team work and the speed that he gets his clients in and out without making them feel rushed. I loved the intimacy of Salon Riz best of all. Katherine is the manager of the salon and her loyalty to Mike was apparent from our first conversation. She met him while they were both working at Extreme Color and then followed him when he opened on the West Side. In speaking about the decor, she commented, “Even the tiniest detail Mike picked out. " She pointed to a picture frame, showing that the angle at which it hung, forming an asymmetrical diamond, was specifically chosen by Mike. He is constantly adding to his cozy home and changing it for the seasons. “Every time I come, something is different or added, ” Katherine said. When I visited, it was late January, and some small flowers had already been hung from the lights in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. Katherine shared that on February 14th, everyone who walks into the salon leaves with a rose. Katherine went on to say that in the springtime, Mike hangs butterflies on the ceiling, giving clients something pretty to look up at while getting their hair washed. Mike told me that the space used to be the rubbish room for the building. He picked up the little sign ("RUBBISH") that he had saved and decorated as a remembrance. The renovation understandably took a long time, and when he opened in June of 2014, he had only just finished construction. He is now very pleased with the place he has carved out for himself a year and a half later, calling it “rustic chic. ” “This is a space for the community, ” he told me. He hosts various events in his salon, including a comedy show featuring Danny Cohen of Comedy Central along with five other comics and a holiday bazaar through the month of December. Mike either shares the space for special events, as was the case when shop owners took over the treats table during the winter holidays, or he completely reconfigures the interior for shows, using salon chairs as additional seating. Sometimes the events are directly tied to enhancing the experience of his customers, such as when he brought live music into the salon during New Year’s Eve to entertain the clients having their hair done. Katherine shared some of the other unique concepts that Mike has instituted to enhance everyone's experience. For his frequent customers, he has special alerts next to their name in the computer system, such as, “This customer likes Tina Turner and white wine. ” Because of the personal attention and the warm relationship that Mike has developed with customers, they often wander in just to say “hi” and to grab a cup of coffee. “I always encourage people to come in and say hello, even if they’re not getting their haircut, ” Mike said. Though he gets a lot of people who live and work in the neighborhood, he is also sought out by many men and women throughout the city. On the day that we stopped in to take some photos, Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, shyly asked if Mike might have a second to trim her bangs. She was so pleased to be attended to by this gifted artist and loved the way that he styled her beautiful long head of red hair. She paid particular attention to the product that he used - Mike told us that Label M, designed by hair stylists, was a London Fashion Show sponsor. He went on to say that he always tries to stay on top of the newest and best hair products. Cost is not an issue; quality is what matters to him. I believe that Mike has gained not only me as a new customer, but Olivia as well. Upon leaving Salon Riz, Olivia declared that the journey from Brooklyn will certainly be worth the trek.