Minding Manhattan’s Business

Written by Angela Barbuti on . Posted in News Our Town, News Our Town Downtown, News West Side Spirit.


The President of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce talks about the Second Avenue Subway, the Super Bowl, and Mayor Bloomberg

You started your job in 1994. How did it come about?

At the time I was working for the New York Sports Club. I had been working there for 12 years and helped that company grow. We started with four clubs when I came on board in 1982. By the time I left, we had over 30, and now, of course, they have hundreds up and down the Eastern Seaboard. I was the vice president of operations and human resources then, and because we had so many clubs on the Upper East Side, the board asked me to join them. So I was on the board of directors of the East Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. And then when the executive director position opened up, they asked me I’d like to take it because I had a lot of ideas and was always trying to encourage the Chamber to try different things. When they asked me, I was like, “Wow, leaving my cushy job overlooking Central Park with 1,000 employees to go to a tiny little Chamber? OK, I’ll do it!”

How can you explain what the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce does?

I am a registered lobbyist in the State of New York. As such, I go to city, state, and federal legislatures with my colleagues and lobby on behalf of pro-business issues. That advocacy is a major part of my job, because there are so many issues with all these different industries in the city – whether it’s manufacturing, restaurants, retailers, or service providers. We have two events a week, and even if they are educational, they always have a networking component. The purpose is to help businesses connect with other businesses. As far as the education part, we have lots of different seminars that cover a range of topics that every small business has to face – whether it’s a legal, accounting, social media, HR, or marketing issue. We also inform on new bills coming into effect, so we can keep our members up-to-date on how to run their businesses more effectively.

Are these networking meetings open to the public?

Yes, our meetings are open to members and non members. We do have some specific meetings that are only open to members. The majority of our events are open to member and non-member businesses.

How much interaction do you have with the mayor?

We have a lot of interaction with the mayor’s administration – the deputy mayors, the commissioners, especially the commissioner of small business services and the deputy mayor for economic development. Mayor Bloomberg came to some of our events over the years. A couple of days ago, we had a meeting with the new deputy mayor for economic development in the new administration.

I read that you decided to move to New York after taking a post-college road trip.

Yes, when I graduated from college, two of my friends and myself went cross country for three months to decide where we wanted to live. So we went to all the cities we had always read about and had never been to – Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago. When we came driving back across the George Washington Bridge, and looked at Manhattan, we all looked at each other and said, “Yup, we’re here!” [Laughs]

On your Twitter profile, you write that you’ve lived in eight cities. What are the other seven?

St. Louis; Chicago; Philadelphia; Birmingham, Massachusetts; Boston; Wilmington, Delaware; Cedartown, Maryland; Middletown, New Jersey.

In an interview, you once said that the MCC started in your neighborhood.

Yes, it was called the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce and it was started by German and Irish businesses that were in the neighborhood. And I still have the original document with the 12 signatures who put the Chamber together in 1920.

What are your favorite small businesses in Yorkville?

I live near Second Avenue, with all the construction for the subway over the last several years. You know, I try to go spend money at those businesses along Second Avenue that are impacted by the construction. What I really love about my neighborhood, which is really true of any neighborhood in New York, I can walk to the corner and dine in Japan, France, Italy, Vietnam, or Mexico. I love the variety of restaurants. I also love to go to the small coffee shops and diners. The diners are great. It kind of revolves around food. [Laughs]

Speaking of the Second Avenue subway, what can you tell us of its progression?

We’re about halfway through, maybe a little bit more than halfway. It’s still projected to be ready on December 31st, 2016. We had a very good working relationship with the MTA over the last three years. We had gone to them and said, “There’s a lot of negativity around the Second Avenue subway being built and its impact on the neighborhoods, and we want to change that. We want to encourage shoppers and diners to go the Second Avenue. There are great stores and restaurants behind those fences and around the corner from the construction.” For a couple of years now, we run a restaurant week, very successfully, all along the subway construction footprint, between 68th and 97th. The first year, we had 26 restaurants and that’s pretty good for the initial time out. It just shows you that people are anxious to get the word out. We will do it again this year; it’s always the first week in June. And we are trying to start a Second Avenue Business Alliance, for business along the avenue, that will go beyond just waiting for the subway to open.

You posted a picture on Twitter of Super Bowl Boulevard preparations. What did you think of it?

We were on the host committee for the Super Bowl. Super Bowl Boulevard ran right outside our offices, from 34th to 47th. We were right in the heart of it. There was a lot of excitement; it was very crowded. I know some of the businesses along Broadway were very excited, they were crazy busy, especially the food stores. To me, it was a big success. I know there were some travel issues going to and from the stadium. But, I will challenge anyone who hosts a Super Bowl anywhere to say that they could get people out of their parking lot in 10 minutes. It just doesn’t happen.

Who was the most memorable person you met through your job?

The most memorable person was Tom Brady, but I didn’t meet him through my job. [Laughs] I’d say Mayor Bloomberg. To me, he’s really an icon and a thought leader that any city would be very happy to have. I really wish him well continuing the Bloomberg brand, but also with his new Bloomberg Associates, helping other cities focus on gun control, health initiatives, and other urban priorities. It’s really all about his thought leadership in terms of how to create better cities and a better life for people in those cities.

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @npmcc

For more information and the MCC and its event, visit www.manhattancc.org

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