Local Yokel: Manhattan Sideways

Welcome to our Local Yokel blog! Each month, we will be highlighting a local New York business that we know you will find inspirational. You’ll learn tidbits such as how they support the local community and economy, their advice and reflections on being business owners, tips on work-life balance, and even what some of their favorite products are. We hope you will enjoy getting to know them as much as we have!

This month, we are excited to highlight Betsy Bober Polivy and Manhattan Sideways.

Tell us a little about your company’s background (your background, your job, how you/your company got started, what makes you tick or anything else you think our Mommybites moms will find interesting).

What began as a whimsical idea, crisscrossing the side streets of Manhattan, quickly developed into Manhattan Sideways. I intrepidly began to walk this walk, side-by-side, at times, with a friend or family member. I revisited each street via bicycle, car, or once again walking, as I realized how much a block could change hour-by-hour. Like the first scene of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the opening of stores, the ebb and flow of people, and the ethnic aromas emanating from restaurant kitchens begin the daily life cycle of each side street. As the day progresses, the playgrounds fill with families, the bar and restaurant patrons spill out onto the sidewalk, and the streets take on a new dimension.

The Avenues – the major north to south thoroughfares of Manhattan – are well covered by the media and well traversed by shoppers and travelers. I wanted to get off the beaten path and explore the side streets. In fact, the development of Manhattan’s iconic grid, starting at 1st Street and continuing up to 155th Street, envisioned the side streets as being of greater importance than the avenues. The side streets were made more numerous and designed to provide easy access to Manhattan’s rivers for commerce and recreation. I wanted to rediscover this original intent for the grid. Therefore, I am literally walking side to side, east to west, beginning on 1st Street and wending my way north. My goal is to walk the numbered side streets and comprehensively document every commercial establishment with special feature write-ups along the way. I will not simply present the highlights of each street that one can access by reading newspapers, magazines and the Internet. Instead, I will include all that creates a neighborhood.

How does your company impact or affect NYC’s local economy? What things does your company do to integrate itself into and support the local community?

As a start up company, I am in the midst of establishing relationships with the various organizers who sponsor local community events. Despite the size of our city, I have found that there are definitely individual communities that really work together to promote their shops and restaurants, to keep their children safe and to bring the arts, in all its forms, to everyone.  It is my hope that ultimately Manhattan Sideways will bring additional attention to these worthwhile community endeavors as well as generating more traffic to the local businesses. Perhaps it is my experience as a small business owner that fuels my passion for the shops that I encounter on the side streets.  Giving them the recognition they deserve is a driving force of this project.

What is your best piece of advice for other local business/companies?

Once you have a good product, it is all about promotion. I am applying the same philosophy to Manhattan Sideways that made my children’s bookstore, Once Upon A Time, one of the most successful in the country. Today, however, I am having to adjust to the world of the Internet, therefore, becoming active in social media. Through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more, we are actively working towards promoting not only my site, but also the businesses we are writing about. In time, I would love to sponsor my own event that could draw attention to the site and all of the terrific places I continue to encounter.

What is the hardest and/or best part about owning your own business?

Manhattan Sideways has allowed me to create my own vision and then to execute it in the fashion that works best for me. For one year, prior to my launching the site, I did a tremendous amount of research. Thus far, I walked, drove or rode my bike on every side street east to west from 1st to 100th Street. I wanted to have a definite feel for what I was about to encounter on a daily basis. I loved it all and knew that I had to make the leap and begin to share all of the wonderful stories that I was accumulating. Perhaps the only downside, if there is one, now that I am fully engaged in this project, is that I have no set hours. I walk the streets sometimes every day of the week – including evenings and weekends. When I am not out strolling, I am busy at my computer until all hours of the night. Am I exhausted at times? Yes, but I am also exhilarated every single day when I wake up in the morning.

If you are sole owner of the business, do you wish you had a partner?

I had a successful partnership for many years when we owned our bookstore, Once Upon A Time. Jane Gelbard, my partner then (who still runs the Baby Book Basket company), and I had a unique working relationship. She made going to work everyday great fun, and we got to the point where we could, honestly, finish each other’s sentences. I know that I was quite fortunate then and therefore realized that it would be difficult to expect that I could duplicate this experience

When we had the bookstore, my children were very young. Today, they are both in their 20s and have been working side by side with me to realize my dream. It is my son’s company, Polivision, that designed the site and provides the photography and videos for every street. My daughter has also been involved since day one, handling all of the content management as well as reading and editing everything that is entered. And then there is my amazing husband who has shared every aspect of Manhattan Sideways with me – encouraging me each step of the way. Thus, while I am technically not partnering with anyone, I can honestly say that this is a family affair.

Any tips on balancing life and work?

Because my children are grown, and not living with me anymore, I do not have the day to day struggles that I did when running a retail business and trying to get to every school function, sports game, and so many other events that happened in their little lives. I do, however, still have a husband who comes home every evening ready to enjoy a nice dinner and to spend a few hours together. Sometimes, I find it difficult to pull myself away from the computer. On the other hand, though, he is always happy to meet me somewhere in the city to have a drink on a side street or to share a meal. So many of my friends have joined me walking the side streets, too. They seem to love getting out there and exploring with me, and I, of course, am thrilled to have their company. It is a great way for me to spend time with special people in my life, while not sacrificing work. My family comes first, though, and it does not matter how old they are. I have a little granddaughter now who is the light of our lives. When my daughter calls and needs me, I am always happy to travel several hours to be there for her. And if my son, who lives in Brooklyn, asks anything of me, he knows that I will drop whatever I am doing and go to him. Nothing is more important to me than my family. I am also blessed with having both of my parents, and, of course, I always try to be there for them, too. I think that when you adore what you are doing, and you are surrounded by wonderful family and friends, you manage to balance it all – no matter what it takes.

What are some of your favorite products?

My recent experience with parenting products has been a bit out of the ordinary. In November 2010, my daughter gave birth to a little girl who weighed just one pound, fourteen ounces. Arriving fourteen weeks ahead of schedule, she became our little miracle.  Needless to say, my life turned upside down as my husband, son and I rushed to Washington, DC, where we remained for three months. Initially, we were introduced to many baby products that most new parents have never experienced, but once out of the hospital, we began to learn about all of the new products on the market in the last 20+ years. My husband’s and my favorite has to be the new treatment for diaper rash. For us, years ago, it had been Balmex, which we spread on our kids’ little bottoms so lovingly, but now we just smile every time we change our granddaughter’s diaper and put this white cream on her called Butt Paste.

We have a Pack N’ Play in our apartment which we think is the perfect concept for small spaces. We are still strong advocates for Cheerios, but the various flavors of Organic Puffs did find their way onto our shelves, as did the squeeze fruits and vegetables. What a concept they are! I have to admit that I had saved not only all of my children’s books, but also so many of their toys, games, music and puzzles – so when our granddaughter comes to visit there is an ample supply of things to amuse her.

If you are looking for moms to help you with your business, either full or part-time, how can they get in touch with you?

The best way to reach out to me is through my email address – [email protected]. I do my best to respond to everyone as quickly as possible. If there are moms out there who love Manhattan as I do, and would enjoy walking the side streets and discovering something new and fascinating every day, they should certainly be in touch with me.

Are there any other questions you wish we asked? If so, what and how would you answer?

What made me begin a totally new career? How did I decide what I wanted to pursue?

Somehow I have always found that by helping others, I can feel fulfilled. I adored introducing the wonderful world of children’s literature to everyone who entered the bookstore. What a thrill it was to excite a child to want to read! But then when my husband and I moved back into the city, I spent two years wondering what I wanted to do next. I knew that I needed to “work,” but I was not sure what path to take. I kept thinking about what interests I had that I could turn into something productive. Besides books, I kept coming back to walking the side streets of New York and wanting to promote the small businesses. It became my hope to encourage people to search for places beyond the familiar ones on their own block or on those that they pass in their daily commute to work.

I have noticed that the side streets (with the exception of the two-way streets) are generally devoid of major retail stores and restaurant chains, which is part of what makes this project so satisfying. With this in mind, I created a blog for native New Yorkers, transplants, and tourists alike. It is meant to be an entertaining, enticing and eclectic resource for anyone willing to venture out and truly discover the side streets of Manhattan.

For further information or to reach out to this month’s “Local Yokel”:

Betsy Bober Polivy

Manhattan Sideways

[email protected]

Manhattan Sideways on Facebook

Twitter Handle:  @NYsideways

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