When the Manhattan Sideways team entered Mia’s Bathhouse during the summer of 2017, we were greeted by the enthusiastic barking of Bella, the five-month-old German Shepherd mix who was watching over the shop alongside her owner, Melody, the manager of Mia’s. She very kindly offered to chat with us about the business while Bella acted as a model for our photographer. LaChena, who also owns the adjacent laundromat, Sudsy Water, opened Mia’s Bathhouse in November 2014. Not only does Mia's offer full service grooming, but also the unique service of self-washing. In fact, Melody told us that they are the only groomers in Harlem with self-serve dog washing available. This has made Mia's a popular option in the neighborhood, since, as Melody pointed out, “It beats doing it in a bathtub at home. ” For those who prefer to leave the pampering to the attendants, the store also has chairs available so “our pet parents can sit and watch their baby get groomed. ”Mia’s also does its best to give back to their community. “We love rescues here, ” Melody exclaimed, adding that there is a ten percent discount on services and merchandise for all rescue dogs. There are also “breed months, ” where certain dogs are selected each month to receive discounted services.
From the outside, there might not seem to be anything particularly remarkable about Joe Eady’s Fashion City. However, when the Manhattan Sideways team ventured inside during the summer of 2017, we met the person who makes the store special: Joe, a warm, wonderful man who told us that he has been on 145th Street for over fifty years. A born and bred Harlemite, Joe was exposed to tailoring at a young age by his mother. Despite not being a seamstress, she was thrifty and knew her way around a sewing machine, and she enlisted Joe as an assistant in operating the foot pedal. After this early introduction to the field, Joe went on to attend Central-Needle Trades High School, where he graduated at the top of his class in men’s tailoring in 1953. His achievement is made even more impressive by the fact that he was the first high school graduate in his family. “College was never an option in my family, ” he went on to say, which is why he sought a job right out of school. Laughing, he told us that he wound up in the Garment District “doing anything but men’s tailoring, ” which prompted him to try for higher education. Joe enrolled in the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he completed his teacher training in 1958. But before he could make use of his degree, Joe was drafted into the army and did two years of service. When he eventually returned to New York in December of 1960, he said teaching jobs were scarce and he had to pick up odd jobs. “The landlord doesn’t ask you where you got the money from; you have to do whatever it takes to pay the rent, ” he remarked. It was not until 1964 that Joe was able to open a tailoring shop on 145th street. We were fascinated to learn that when he started out, many of his clients were local hustlers who needed custom suits. Custom tailoring, and trousers in particular, was his main enterprise. As a result, the rise in popularity of blue jeans in the ‘70s put a substantial dent in his business. Joe was undeterred, however. “I’ve been thinking outside the box all my life, ” he declared - a mindset that spurred him to add leather and fur to his offered services. Fur refurbishing and restyling was especially in demand at the time, since it was impractical for the average consumer to purchase new or real fur frequently. Joe added, “People are fine with wearing old fashions as long as I can bring them back to life. ” Nowadays, the popularity of fur is dying down due to the efforts of organizations like PETA, but Joe is confident in his ability to keep evolving, simply saying, “I’m an optimistic person. You have to be optimistic in business. ” This philosophy has obviously paid off, as he continues to thrive so many decades later. He has served three generations of customers and has weathered the many historical events that have struck Harlem, including the riots and a slew of break-ins that took place following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Joe insisted that the only secret to his longevity is his devotion to customer service. “This is my neighborhood; you have to have a good reputation. ”As for his plans for the future, he revealed that he eventually hopes to combine his knowledge of teaching and tailoring by opening a training school to instruct others in the basics of his craft. “I’ve got all kinds of crazy plans, ” he finished, cheerfully.
Some of my first memories of sitting in the audience at the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center are of Jacques d’Amboise. Even as a young child, I recognized his grace and brilliance as a dancer. My Mom and I followed him and his career for decades. In addition to seeing him on stage, we went to hear him speak on various occasions, and after he retired from dancing, we enjoyed the ballets that he choreographed... and then were overjoyed to watch his son Christopher literally follow in his footsteps. We were elated when Jacques won an Academy Award for He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' in 1984 and cheered him on when he founded the National Dance Institute (NDI) in 1976. In the early 2000s, I was thrilled to be able to arrange to have the students from his organization perform at my own children’s school. Today, his art education program at NDI has reached approximately 6, 500 children throughout the New York City school system by bringing dance and music into young people's lives. Over the course of the six years that I have spent walking the side streets of Manhattan, I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting thousands of people who have each touched me in a unique way. I have been transfixed by every word of their stories and honored to be able to share them on the Manhattan Sideways website. Sitting down next to Jacques d’Amboise when I neared the top of the Manhattan grid brought tears to my eyes - it was certainly a highlight of my journey. At eighty-three years old, he was everything and more of the man that had left such a deep impression on me some forty-five years before. He is a genuine human being with a deep compassion for others, a strong desire to continue to make the world a better place through art and dance, and the ultimate New Yorker. When I mentioned my childhood memories and told him how my parents had been attending performances at New York City Ballet almost since the beginning, he began reminiscing and spoke fondly of Lincoln Kirsten and George Balanchine, the founders. As he started sharing stories of his time spent in Russia, one of the Manhattan Sideways photographers, Olga, walked in. Jacques became giddy when he learned that she had grown up in Odessa and had studied ballet. After our marvelous encounter with Jacques, we proceeded down the stairs of NDI to where all the action happens. What was once a public school has now become a dance center with multiple classrooms and a 100-seat theater for performances. If one did not know, however, that one were in a dance studio, one might think this was a spectacular art gallery. As I learned from the enthusiastic staff members, Jacques loves immersing himself in beauty, and he wants his students to be surrounded by it as well. Whenever he travels around the world, he comes back with something extraordinary. In addition to the array of pieces by a diverse number of artists, there is also a wonderful wall of photographs of Jacques that his wife took over the years. Before dashing off to a tap class, Mary Kennedy, a Master Teaching Artist since 2000, spoke briefly with me. She explained that every year, the staff decides on a different theme for the season. In 2017, they were concentrating on rivers. Not only are the various dances that are choreographed integrated into the related theme, but lessons about the subject are also given. When I inquired if she ever "joins" a class, she responded with a smile and said, "I always enjoy learning and participating, so sometimes I, too, take a class with the kids. I still feel like a child. It is fun to mirror them. This way we have a team experience. " I then asked Mary if there was one thing that she could share with me about working with Jacques over the past seventeen years. Her reply was simple: "Because of Jacques' vision, all of us are able to live his dream. He has given us the opportunity to bring joy to so many through movement and dance. "Other staff members elaborated on some of what Mary had shared. They explained that they send teaching artists and musicians into the schools to identify and decide who is invited into their programs. "We would like to take everyone, but we obviously cannot do this. " They assured me, however, that children can still come and take classes. When I commented on what the students were wearing, I learned that they are encouraged to come in comfy clothing and sneakers. It is one of the few places where traditional ballet is taught where proper dance attire is not required. NDI has a need-based scholarship program for the weekly classes, which are offered to kindergartners through eighth graders. On Saturdays, when around 200 children come to NDI, I was told that it is "electric. " A staff member explained, “You can always feel the energy - it bounces off of you. We cannot describe what goes on here: Everyone needs to experience it. ” All of this is immediately apparent upon stepping inside the National Dance Institute. One can see the smiles on the children’s faces, the gratitude of the parents, and the absolute joy that the teachers experience every day working with Jacques, who is clearly an incredible man. Jacques d’Amboise is a legend and a hero not only in New York but around the country and throughout the world. He wants each child to succeed, and he has created an environment that helps them excel. His goal is pure and simple - instilling the desire in kids to be the best that they can be. What better way to do this than through dance? His philosophy is not only that children can potentially become dancers, but that they can master many other challenges in their lives. As Traci Lester, the Executive Director, expressed to me, “If you surround children with the best, then they will shine. Jacques sets the standard. Give them high expectations and they will rise. " She added, "Everything is about Jacques. He is what sets us apart from other art education programs. He is a catalyst for change. He inspires every one of us. "
The Manhattan Sideways team was captivated by the inside of La Fleur from the moment we stepped inside. The atmosphere was bright and welcoming, with vibrant flower arrangements liberally displayed throughout the shop and an array of vases lining the shelves. We were instantly greeted by the charming members of the staff, who did not hesitate to chat with us about La Fleur. We were surprised to learn that Louis, the store’s owner, had not always planned on entering the floral design industry. In fact, he had studied Hotel and Service Management and worked for internationally recognized corporations including Hilton Hotels and Starbucks. It was not until 2004 that he decided to complete a certification course in floristry at New York Botanical Garden. Soon afterward, he apprenticed at some of the top flower shops in the city, including Ariston and L’Olivier. He opened Harlem Flo, his first independent venture as a florist, on 122nd Street. In 2016, this was replaced by La Fleur d’Harlem, the newest iteration of the business, on 144th Street. His move has proven to be successful. Over the past few years, Louis has had the opportunity to provide arrangements for everything from lavish weddings to casual anniversary bouquets. In addition, Louis and his team have enjoyed designing small floral terraces throughout the city and traveling outside of Manhattan to provide flowers for special events in the Hamptons, New Jersey, and upstate. One of his favorite projects was a Citbank sign made out of flowers. Louis explained that his focus has always been on service - "understanding and learning each customer's preferences and needs. " He is pro-active in letting clients know what is available, showing them what he can do, and working within their budgets. "I always try to manage people's expectations, delivering the best I can for them. "
Our visit to Engine 69/Ladder 28 only confirmed what I have known since I began walking the side streets of Manhattan: Firemen are some of the friendliest people in the city. When we knocked on the door to the station, we were immediately welcomed in and invited to join the firemen in their air-conditioned break room. We were happy to escape the heat outside and enjoyed the chance to learn about what makes their station unique. The station was nicknamed the “Harlem Hilton, ” we were told, shortly after the gas crisis that hit the city in the 1970s. To avoid wasting extra gas by making too many trips between their houses and the station, many men chose to sleep over, hence earning the firehouse its name and their reputation as “a hospitable bunch. ” The men were kind enough to let us visit their kitchen and dining room, where they proudly showed off the long table where they eat. It is made out of the floor of an old bowling alley. No one was sure about the origins of the table or the reasons behind its placement in their kitchen, but we all agreed that it added another quirky, albeit mysterious, element in the firehouse’s hundred-year history.