Apr 18, 2022

Flatiron Faces: George Calderaro, Director of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project

Meet George Calderaro, Director of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project. “We are building,” says Calderaro, “a dynamic community of American popular music enthusiasts and supporters to share the history of the people, events, and songs of Tin Pan Alley, as well as support music and cultural literacy, inspire current and future artists and musicians, and the public at large.”

1. Congratulations on the Tin Pan Alley/West 28th Street Co-Naming at the northwest corner of Broadway and 28th Street earlier this month. As founding director of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project, share with us your integral role in the launching of this historic event.

I first learned that Tin Pan Alley was the birthplace of American popular music on West 28th Street when I moved to the area in 2015 and joined the board of the 29th Street Neighborhood Association. They were working on an expansion proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the Madison Square North Historic District, which included Tin Pan Alley. Like many people, I’d always heard of Tin Pan Alley but did not know that the first sheet music publishers and popular songwriters were on 28th Street, that the buildings were unprotected from demolition and under-recognized. When I learned of this, I went to work to help protect the buildings, and have since been compared to “a dog with a bone.” Recognition of Tin Pan Alley through co-naming of the street was always a long-term goal to increase awareness of this global cultural landmark.

Photo Credit: Flatiron Partnership - George Calderaro with Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine & Councilmember Erik Bottcher

2. Briefly tell us about the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project and your role as volunteer Director. What aspect of your role excites you the most?

Following more than six years of work by me and a dedicated committee—not to mention decades of efforts by other groups—we succeeded in achieving landmark designation of 47-55 West 28th Street. At that point, there was such a moment to commemorate and continue the legacy of Tin Pan Alley that we created the Project to share the diverse history of the people, events, and songs of Tin Pan Alley. I especially prize the values of multiculturism and, frankly, the scrappiness of these young talents with various backgrounds determined to share their talents with the world in new ways. I find it incredibly rewarding to share the stories of New York City and American cultural history with people who have no idea of the vast legacy in our midst. When people first learn of it, they are rightfully awestruck.

3. In 2019, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated five historic buildings associated with Tin Pan Alley. Why is it important for the public to remember the region’s history and the significance of its preservation for future generations?

The significance of Tin Pan Alley as a cultural landmark cannot be overstated. On these very streets and in these very buildings, American popular music and the modern music industry were created largely by innovative Jewish and Black immigrants to New York. Their unprecedented creative output changed the nation’s cultural history and legacy. Tin Pan Alley is also an important indicator of the Flatiron District’s history as the cultural and entertainment center of New York at the turn of the 20th century. The entire neighborhood brimmed with theaters, cabarets, hotels, and entertainments venues often in distinctive edifices that remain today.

4. You once said that “American popular music is recognized globally as a defining element of our culture and cultural history.” What are some of your personal favorite songs from the Tin Pan Alley era?

I have to confess that I favor the songs that reflected and changed history. Irving Berlin, the godfather of Tin Pan Alley, wrote the truly moving “God Bless America” in 1918 in appreciation of his adopted country. Liora Michelle beautifully sang the song and its stirring introduction at the street co-naming. Another unofficial national anthem is “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by J. Rosamond Johnson and his brother James Weldon Johnson who write it as a poem in 1900. The song is now under consideration by Congress to be the nation’s first National Hymn. The first song to sell a million (and eventually five million!) copies of sheet music was “After the Ball” by Charles K. Harris in 1892. It was later incorporated into “Show Boat,” the first modern American musical, to represent the music of the whole era. History abounds on Tin Pan Alley!

Photo Credit: Mary Ann Lopinto of Liora Michelle

5. In addition to your role with the Tin Pan Alley project, you’re also currently Director of Outreach Programs at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies. What inspired you to pursue a career in community relations and historic preservation?

I have been very fortunate to have spent my entire professional career in nonprofit cultural and educational institutions. In this work and active civic life, I have been able to share important work and stories that educate and hopefully inspire.

6. When you’re not in Tin Pan Alley area, how do you like to spend your time elsewhere in the neighborhood?

I love the neighborhood! Like many New Yorkers and visitors, I alway stop by Fishs Eddy, the truly distinctive emporium which, in true community spirit, is even hosting a lecture/benefit for the Tin Pan Alley Project! I also love to stop in at the shop/gallery Maison 10 to check in on proprietors Tom and Henri and the ever-changing inventory of art and objects whose sale supports 10 charities. I regularly visit Madison Square Park with my dog Romeo (we are proud sponsors of the new dog run!). And Poster House is a regular stop for inspiring exhibitions that reveal under-known artists and movements, a shared mission of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project come to think of it!

7. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron & Nomad District.

Diverse. Distinctive. Irreplaceable.

Header & Thumbnail Photo Credit: Nora Fritsch.

Mar 24, 2022

Flatiron Faces: Ruth Domber, Co-Founder, 10/10 Optics

Meet Ruth Domber, Co-founder of 10/10 Optics, an award-winning boutique eyewear store at 50 Madison Avenue on the corner 26th Street. “We stand behind the experience that we deliver,” notes Domber, “and as an independent owner, our ethics and reputation for excellence and service for over 40 years in business have maintained our position as leaders in the optical industry!”

1. 10/10 Optics is a boutique eyeglass store that made its neighborhood debut in 1979. Tell us more about the store and the reasons for its longevity.

The first of my four 10/10 Optics locations was on Second Avenue. We’re now located on Madison Avenue and 26th Street in a stunning space. We were among the first wave of boutique opticals that were independently owned and operated. We were unique in that we did not have our patients walk up and down our aisles to select their own eyewear, but rather had them at a comfortable counter and we, as experts, brought the eyewear to them. This format resonated with our clientele, as they preferred having an expert manage the entire purchasing process. Within the optical industry, we were the forerunners of this unique concept.

2. Not just the co-founder, you’re considered an eyewear makeover expert who is “passionate about the transformative powers of eyewear.” How do you describe your role? What aspect of your job excites you most?

Within the first year of opening 10/10 Optics, I knew that my primary role was to educate both the consumer as well as to train an expert staff of opticians. Keep in mind that I’m almost always working with an ‘uneducated’ consumer when it comes to buying eyewear. The purchases and decisions to be made are a blend of esthetics and technical components. The lay person or client will not be aware of how these two factors are combined to yield the best results. Many factors will go into selecting the correct pair of eyewear. Being able to deliver an excellent consumer experience is exhilarating and extremely satisfying.

Photo Credit: 10/10 Optics

3. Why should customers choose 10/10 Optics over chain store locations? What sets your brand apart from others?

We are expert opticians. Our optometry practice is solid, innovative, and caring. My staff of skilled technicians has been with me for decades and knows the faces and names of our friends and patients.

4. What eyewear styles are your bestsellers? What’s trending with customers and what are your personal favorites?

We are renowned for curating independent eyewear collections from around the world. Each one has its own ‘flavor.’ I know the artists that create the designs. As a result of our reputation for excellence and innovation, we frequently offered new eyewear collections before they are available to the mainstream eyewear market. My favorite is the discovery of new artists, designers, and collections before they reach the height of fame. Among my favorites are Lucas de Staël for leather, granite, and stone, Rigards for industrial design, Hoffmann for classic buffalo horn, and DeLoor for color combinations and styles that are colorful, funky, and one of a kind.

Photo Credit: 10/10 Optics

5. Before launching 10/10 Optics, you earned an undergraduate degree in business administration and management. What inspired you to pursue a career in eyewear retail?

Since the age of 15, I always had a job. By the time I was 17, my optometrist needed a part-time receptionist and I worked there after school and on weekends. After a time, I left him and moved on to another job in optics until after a few years I was in a managerial position in another optical retail location. By the time I graduated college in 1979, it was either law school or opening an optical/optometry retail practice with my best friend, optometrist Dr. Stephen Rozenberg. He was the optometry side and I was the optical side, and we both ran the business end. By the time we opened, I had a dual education. One in business administration and the other in optics. I love working with people, helping them to see their best and having my own business. 

6. When you’re not at 10/10 Optics, how do you like to spend your time in the neighborhood?

In my free time, I enjoy the company of my children and grandkids. We spend weekends together, as well as share a retreat in the beautiful mountains upstate near the Woodstock festival. Working out is an essential part of my daily routine at the local CrossFit.

7. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron & NoMad District.

Wonderfully populated. Diverse. Artistic.

Photography Credit: David Perlman Photoraphy

Feb 7, 2022

Flatiron Faces: Lior Yanay, Retail Operations Director, Milk Bar

Meet Lior Yanay, Director of Retail Operations at Milk Bar's NYC Flagship located at 1196 Broadway and 29th Street. The brand’s menu created by a diverse culinary team includes cake truffles, cookies, pies, and customers can create their own treats. “We strive to provide a guest not only an amazing product,” says Yanay, “but also an experience to remember.” 

1. You were part of the launch team for Milk Bar’s NYC flagship debut in NoMad on the ground floor of the Ace Hotel in 2019. As Director of Retail Operations at the award-winning bakery since 2021, tell us about your role and what aspect of the job excites you the most.

My role is to oversee day-to-day operations across all our bakeries. We have a team of extremely talented leaders who manage the bakeries, and we constantly work together on pushing the bar higher. It’s gratifying to be part of such a great brand that doesn’t only sell delicious desserts, but also cares so much about the experience and satisfaction of both its guests and its employees. This role requires you to understand what happens on the ground, and have the ability to see the bigger picture.

Photo Credit: Milk Bar

2. The bakery got its start in 2008 with its first location in the East Village, and nearly 15 years later the brand has been described as “one of the most exciting bakeries in the country” by Bon Appétit magazine. What do you think sets Milk Bar apart? And what inspired the flagship location in NoMad?

There’s always a nostalgic element when you go to Milk Bar. It could be with the soft serve flavor, Cereal Milk, which tastes just like the leftover milk from a bowl of cereal you had as a child, or the NoMad flagship bakery, which has design cues from a high school cafeteria and allows you to build your own adventure cake or cookie. We work hard with our teams on finding out what the guest is looking for and how we could surprise them without any expectations.

3. Milk Bar’s tempting menu items include cakes, cake truffles, cookies, pies, soft serve ice cream, shakes, and bread bombs. What are Milk Bar’s bestsellers and what’s your personal favorite?

You really can’t go wrong with the Milk Bar Pie and the Birthday Cake. Both are amazing and delicious, and definitely everyone’s favorite treats. I personally love our Blueberry & Cream Cookie, which tastes like the top of a blueberry muffin. It’s delicate and sweet and a really good treat, especially when warm!

4. When it comes to gifting, Milk Bar is a perfect spot to pick-up a surprise treat for a loved one. What are your go-to giftable sweets? For Valentine’s Day, what do recommend for the occasion?

Our cakes are a safe bet. You can choose between Birthday and Chocolate Birthday, which are on the menu all-year-round, and you’ll always have one to two seasonal cakes.

For Valentine’s Day, our amazing culinary team came up with a Red Velvet Cheesecake Cake, which not only looks lovely, but tastes exactly like what you’d expect from a Valentine’s Day cake. This year we also have our own take on chocolate, which we call Fudgy Frosting Squares. It’s a variety box with three flavors: Birthday White Chocolate, Cereal Milk Chocolate, and Fudgy Dark Chocolate.

Photo Credit: Milk Bar 

5. Besides featuring a bakery, the store also has stations where customers can create their own treats, a disco-ball decorated classroom, and a grab-and-go market. Tell us more about the experience at the flagship.

The NoMad Flagship was planned and built with the mindset of inviting the guests to spend more time and choose their own adventure within the bakery. They can go with a Build-A-Cake or Build-A-Cookie Experience, where they would work with a baker to design and build their own treat, go to a classroom, to work with a talented teacher and learn how we make our delicious birthday cake and truffles, or just spend some time in our mini mart, and maybe send a postcard at no cost to a friend, or get one of our merchandise items. It’s really about the guest and what they’re looking for on their visit.

6. Before your arrival at Milk Bar, you earned an undergraduate degree in business administration. You were also a barista and coffee operator in Israel. What led you to pursue the retail/hospitality industry?

My grandparents used to have a restaurant, and from a young age, I enjoyed running around in kitchens and on the floor. I always knew I didn’t want a traditional 9-to-5 job, and the food and beverage industry provides something that is more challenging and exciting. I’m also a true believer that food can connect us all, no matter where we come from—it’s not called ‘breaking bread’ for nothing!

7. What do you love most about Flatiron/NoMad? When you’re not at Milk Bar, how do you like to spend your time in the neighborhood?

I love how quickly it develops and how different it gets every single day. It’s becoming a hustling and bustling area, and as more places open, it just attracts more attention.

I truly enjoy getting a cortado at Seven Grams Caffé on 28th Street and Madison Avenue, or an amazing Shakshuka Danish at Bourke Street Bakery on 28th Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues. My lunch would either be from Sweetgreen or Num Pang—both on Broadway, and on nice days, I’ll try to eat in Madison Square Park. 

8. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron and NoMad Districts.

Place to Be.

Thumbnail & Header Photo Credit: Lior Yanay.

Dec 13, 2021

Flatiron Faces: Cindy Lawrence, Executive Director & CEO, MoMath

Meet Cindy Lawrence, Executive Director and CEO of the award-winning National Museum of Mathematics, located at 11 East 26th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues. “By the time visitors leave MoMath,” says Lawrence, “they understand that math can be fun, full-body, experiential, creative, and colorful—words they probably never associated with math before!”

1. You were part of the launch team for the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), which made its debut in December 2012. Now as Executive Director and CEO, describe your current role. What do you consider the Museum’s greatest accomplishments in nearly a decade?

In my current role, I am ultimately responsible for all aspects of the Museum’s operations, including everything from programming to finance and administration to fundraising. I love nothing more than to think up new ways to engage visitors with the wonder and beauty of mathematics, whether through exciting new programs, both online and in person, or through the development of new exhibit ideas. In almost a decade of operation, I think the Museum’s greatest accomplishments are in showcasing math in unusual, unexpected, and highly engaging ways, and in making math a welcoming place for people of all ages and backgrounds.

2. MoMath promises to showcase “a side of math you’ve never seen before.” How is this achieved?

Most people expect a math museum to be filled with things like numbers, calculators, graph paper, and the like. MoMath has very few of those things. Instead, the Museum has an adult-sized tricycle with square wheels that roll smoothly, a seven-sided studio where you can design your own mathematical sculptures, an invisible laser wall that magically highlights surprising and hidden shapes, the best fractal selfie opportunity in the city, a uniquely colorful and dynamic Voronoi dance floor, and much, much more. 

Pictured: Cindy taking a selfie within a life-sized kaleidoscope  

3. You’ve mentioned that the museum is “home to more than 40 interactive, engaging, and playful exhibits that showcase the fascinating world of mathematics.” Share with us your current recommendations for MoMath activities available to kids, teens, and adults.

Spend a day at MoMath and you’ll find yourself exploring a beautiful world you may not have known existed. Learn about the relationship between position, velocity, and acceleration by placing your moving body into a video game; fill a canvas with artwork that magically (and mathematically!) appears with just a few strokes of your paintbrush; and evaluate sports analytics as you use a robotic thrower to shoot some hoops. But that’s not all!

The Museum hosts programs almost every day of the week that reach people all over the world. Join us for one of our popular (and free!) monthly math programs: Math Encounters, bringing charismatic speakers to the MoMath stage, and Family Fridays, where hands-on fun is in store for all members of the family. For the tiniest math fans, MathPlay develops an early love of math right in the Museum, while Loving Math provides a wild and crazy story hour accessible online—to the early elementary crowd. 

Volumes is a series of exciting book discussions for adults, often featuring the authors, while Tween Primes does the same for the teen and tween crowd. Exercise your brain with challenging problems and puzzles at the monthly online Math Gym, meet special guests at the movie discussion series, Starring Math, and join our adult-only programs: Senior Sessions turn advanced concepts in math into engaging discussions and activities, and Equilibrium, a game night that allows not just game-playing but provides an opportunity to meet new people from near and far.

Students can find a wide range of Student Sessions online, from code-breaking to shape-shifting, while Discovery Sessions in the Museum allow a more hands-on exploration of math, including the madness of MoĢˆbius strips and the surprises of knot theory. MoMath even offers Expansions, for students with a special love of and talent for math to work together with peers on problems they won’t ever see in school.

Like to think creatively? Join more than 10,000 people from almost 100 countries around the world for a weekly dose of Mind-Benders puzzles, sent directly to your inbox. Finally, start your weekend off right with some Folding Fun as MoMath and OrigamiUSA partner week after week for an hour of creativity that brings together young and old alike—there’s math in every fold!

4. Since its opening, MoMath has had more than 1 million visitors, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Jeff Bezos. Tell us more about those visits!

Whenever I show someone around MoMath, I inevitably hear three words come out of their mouth: “That’s so cool!” Jeff Bezos holds the record for saying those words more times during our walkaround than any other visitors before or since—so I think he liked the place! And what an honor to have a former President and First Lady doing what so many of our visitors do—enjoying MoMath with their grandchildren! 

Pictured: Jeff Bezos, Flatiron District Resident

5. You earned an accounting degree and worked as an accountant. What initially attracted you to math and what led to your career at a cultural/educational institution?

I’ve always loved math because to me, it was just like solving puzzles…there’s the initial intrigue as the puzzle is presented, the thoughtful challenge as you try different strategies to solve the problem, and the aha moment of discovery when you see the solution. The shot of adrenaline you get when you figure something out has always been appealing to me, and I think many mathematicians describe their own research in similar terms. Despite my lifelong love of math, however, my career at MoMath was somewhat of a fluke. I volunteered to help organize a one-day exhibition for the 2009 World Science Festival and fell in love with the project in the process, ultimately leaving a job I’d held for more than 18 years to join a fabulous, inspirational team building something meaningful and important.

6. What do you love most about Flatiron/NoMad? When you’re not at MoMath, how do you like to spend your time in the neighborhood?

I love the sense of community in this neighborhood—everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and takes such pride in their organizations and their contributions. Although I was born in NYC, I spent most of my life in the suburbs of Long Island, so it was both a surprise and a treat to discover what a fabulous neighborhood the Museum had landed in. And it wasn’t an accident, either—the friendly, welcoming, and helpful leadership of the Flatiron BID was an important factor in our choosing this area to become our home.

As to places, Madison Square Park is a true gem and it’s right outside our front door! The triangular “wedge” in front of the Flatiron Building has also become a second home, where we can bring exciting math programming to celebrate the summer and winter solstices each year. And with the new Open Streets program, even 26th Street itself, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, provides a new outdoor extension of the Museum where we can engage passersby with math exploration and play.

As to eateries, there are so many great places to eat that it’s hard to know where to begin! We love taking visiting guests to Novitá, ilili, The Smith, La Pecora Bianca, Hillstone, Sarabeth’s, Upland, Dos Caminos, and the Little Beet. For quicker bites, we love the Melt Shop, Shake Shack, Sweetgreen, Bourke Street Bakery, and Cafe 28. And for evening drinks, Vin Sur Vingt, John Doe Craft Bar & Kitchen, 230 FIFTH, and the very cool Patent Pending are great places to spend some time.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two particular retail stores…as a hands-on museum, we were simply delighted to find that Home Depot is one of our nearest neighbors! And we have our own terrific Museum shop, Additions, which is a great place to find cool gifts for everyone on your holiday list.

7. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Friendly. Family-oriented. Fun!

Nov 15, 2021

Flatiron Faces: Christina Cho Yoo & Ming Thompson, Co-Founders of Atelier Cho Thompson

Meet Christina Cho Yoo and Ming Thompson, Co-Founders of Atelier Cho Thompson, this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition presented by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute.

Atelier Cho Thompson’s art installation will appear on the Flatiron North Plaza at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street as the centerpiece of the Partnership’s “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” program and will be on display from November 22rd through January 2nd. The design's interactive story wall, made of backlit papers hung on a grid, invites visitors to share responses to the prompt: “I dream of a world where together we can....” The resulting narratives will become a patchwork of voices documenting this challenging yet hopeful moment.

1. Congratulations on being selected as this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition for your interactive concept titled Interwoven. What was your reaction upon hearing the news?

CC: We were surprised and excited. When we learned about the other invitees and their designs, we felt even more honored to be considered alongside such amazing firms doing such innovative, meaningful work that not only expanded the scope of what architects do but also who we design for.

MT: This year’s group of finalists all share an interest in architecture’s potential to have social impact and create hopeful shared experiences for our communities.

Interwoven on display Nov 22 - Jan 1

2. Interwoven will appear on the Flatiron North Plaza at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street. You’ve indicated that your installation “offers a platform for stories and dreams of our future.” Tell us more and the inspiration behind your design.

MT: We began with the idea of interweaving; after almost two years, we are all returning to the public spaces of our cities, where our paths and lives will intersect. Our earliest sketches showed criss-crossing arches inspired by agricultural structures and garden trellises. Drawing from the intersecting angles of the site, we explored how we could interweave parabolic arches to create a robust structure and welcoming, dynamic form.

In all of our work, we try to build community around design. We aim to use design to address community issues, like in our Design Brigade program, but we also aim to directly engage people in creating shared design solutions and vision for the future. From the beginning, we wanted to have a story wall component, where people could contribute hopes and ideas to a collage. We were lucky to connect with Youth Fellows from the People’s Bus NYC project to create a prompt for those stories.

CC: I’ve always loved the idea of America as a tapestry of different people because that metaphor implies that all the elements in the cloth retain their identity and need to bend a little to weave together. For better or worse, this pandemic has connected people across the world through a shared experience unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Through the sadness and challenges that we have faced, our installation looks for the silver linings and urges us forward to a more hopeful future as we realize how much we craved connecting with each other in public space.

3. The installation is outfitted with interactive components, including archways activated by color-coded light and musical sensors, a hammock, and benches. What do you hope the public’s takeaway will be when experiencing your installation?

MT: Interwoven reacts to human input, and that reinforces the idea that all of us should have the power and the agency to shape our built environment. The architecture of our city isn’t stagnant; it’s alive, ever-changing, and shaped by the actions of all who wish to have their voices heard. In the words of Elizabeth Alexander in the National Monument Audit, “Our built environment is in motion; it always has been in motion.” From our streets to our neighborhoods to our cities, we can all play a role in shaping that motion.

CC: The sensor-activated lighting and musical effects reinforce the idea that people connecting and working together can produce unexpected, beautiful results. We invited musicians to come up with original compositions or to play pieces that responded to the prompt: We possess a fundamental desire to connect with each other through shared experiences and to celebrate our differences. Interwoven offers a platform for stories and dreams of our future. We've faced isolation and we've seen political, socioeconomic, ethnic strife of all sorts. In light of these isolating, trying times, we're wanting to convey a message of hope, as we've realized how interconnected we are and how much we crave connection with each other like never before.

4. You’re the co-founders of Atelier Cho Thompson (ACT), an award-winning multidisciplinary design and concept company with offices in San Francisco and New Haven. ACT is also certified as a Women-Owned San Francisco Local Business Enterprise and is a member of the Female Founders Collective. Briefly describe your company, your roles, and what led to your business partnership in 2014?

MT: Christina and I had a dream of creating an architecture firm that went beyond buildings. We have sought to find and build a more humane vision of architecture, one built around the human body and around building community around design.

CC: Ming worked in museums and had a graphic design business prior to architecture school. I was a structural engineer who loved gardening, making furniture, and exhibition design. We believed that architecture had to serve both those with and without a lot of money and resources. We believed design could give agency and a voice to people who typically did not feel like that had those things. Ming and I both yearned for a broader definition of architecture that we could not find in a firm, so we created it.

5. You were classmates at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. What led you to Cambridge, and later, your pursuit of architecture?

MT: I’m from a small town in Appalachia, and I grew up in my parents’ wildly creative restaurant in a dairy barn. For my whole life I have simply loved making things, and it was only when a college friend towed me to an architecture class that I discovered that I could make a whole career, a whole life out of that love of making. Since that first moment, I have loved the challenges of architecture, of solving problems, of taking an idea from concept to execution, and of working within and finding opportunities in constraints. We just happened to be assigned desks together in our first year of grad school. After long nights of models and drawings, our friendship was born.

CC: I worked as a structural engineer at Arup prior to architecture school. Working for many years on the California Academy of Sciences by Renzo Piano eventually pushed me over to the other side, i.e., architecture. I loved how the architect could be involved in overseeing everything from the exhibition design to designing the entire building itself, managing many different consultants towards a common goal, teaching people about sustainability through the building design, and surmounting technical challenges of designing a rainforest dome and aquarium in one of the most seismic areas in the world. The possibilities are vast as an architect, and I love that we can be visionaries, pushing the boundaries of what the built environment can be and who it is built for.

6. Speaking of architectural style, Flatiron/NoMad is known for its distinctively-designed properties and public spaces. What’s your favorite building or architectural element here in the neighborhood?

MT: I love the view from the Flatiron Plaza––the Chrysler Building in the distance, the ornamented façade of the Flatiron Building, the Metropolitan Life Clock Tower, the new glass towers. It’s the layering of history made visible.

7. What do you like most about Flatiron/NoMad? When you’re in the neighborhood, how do you like to spend your time?

CC: I live in San Francisco, so it’s been a while since I’ve been in the neighborhood, but I do want to check out Cote Korean Steakhouse/Undercote, abcV, (a vegetarian place by Jean-Georges who never disappoints), and Sugarfish, melt-in-your-mouth sushi I first had in LA. When I’m there soon, I’ll make a requisite visit to Shake Shack and probably pick up a LEGO set for my kids at the LEGO store. For work, I’ll probably stop by ABC Carpet & Home. Gotta get a little something for my stomach, something for my kids, and then something for work.

8. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

MT: Vibrant. Layered. Interwoven!

CC: Active. Gastronomic. Varied.

Oct 14, 2021

Flatiron Faces: Catie Luzio, Founder & CEO of Luminary and The Glass Ceiling

Meet Cate Luzio, Founder and CEO of Luminary and The Glass Ceiling, both located at 1204 Broadway, between 29th and 30th Streets. Luminary is a global professional growth platform and company space for women and women-identified, and male allies. And on the building’s rooftop is The Glass Ceiling, a communal workspace and restaurant and bar.

1. You’ve defined Luminary as a “premier collaboration space for women who are passionate about professional development and expanding their networks.” Tell us more and describe your roles as founder and CEO.

We are a global, inclusive, membership-based professional and personal growth platform and community space: a first of its kind created for women and our male allies; we are bringing people together to convene, inspire, learn, and connect. Offering dozens of programs and events every single week, Luminary is the ultimate career advocate, uplifting and upskilling women through all phases of their professional journey—in the workforce, entrepreneurship, and in transition. Luminary is open to all, and there is no application process to become a member. I started Luminary as a way to bring women together to advance each other’s careers, and it has quickly grown into a movement perfectly timed to push us through the current workplace crisis.

Luminary’s members are a multigenerational and intersectional community of individuals, intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs, corporations, and organizations with access to a vast eco-system of expert-led thought leadership programs and services, as well as perks and amenities, including a digital library with over 500 hours of downloadable content, a virtual platform to connect and convene with other Members, a three-floor work and social space in the Flatiron/NoMad neighborhood, which we love!

Photo Credit: Luminary space by Melissa Wiley via Business Insider

In addition to business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers, we work with companies like UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Unilever, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Mastercard, Spotify, ViacomCBS, and ADP, to name a few! To date, we’ve led well over 1,000 in-person and virtual programs, workshops, and events. In late 2020, in response to the pandemic, Luminary created its Fellowship Program, supporting both women-owned businesses and women impacted by COVID-19 and the resulting ‘she-cession.’  These fellowships deliver access to ongoing education, mentorship/coaching, business resources and tools, critical content and training, as well as community and connection. Currently, Luminary has established partnerships with Unilever, Verizon, Indeed, and UBS—awarding nearly 800 fellowships.

Even though we were only 14 months old as a company, I am proud to still be here— thanks to our community and team, and we will celebrate three years as a business at the start of 2022. I am also proud to still have a physical space with Luminary for people to come to and The Glass Ceiling. We could have easily shut our doors completely due to the pandemic, but there was no way I was leaving!

2. What inspired you to open The Glass Ceiling, the restaurant and bar on Luminary’s rooftop? And can you elaborate on the partnership between these two businesses?

When I decided to open Luminary, I wanted our space to be in a central location, and one where I could bring new experiences, new faces, and new opportunities. NoMad was an easy choice. Working with my landlord, I realized that in addition to the 11,000 square feet Luminary occupies in our building (two full floors), there was also an empty rooftop. I wanted to create an extension of Luminary by investing in building a rooftop bar and restaurant in the neighborhood, open to all, providing a safe space for our members and the public to gather, convene and connect. Luminary members have access to use The Glass Ceiling as an additional work and social space throughout the day, and in the evening, it opens to all as a bar and restaurant. It’s a great opportunity to support the Luminary community but also the NoMad and NYC community at large. We are proud to have been able to open The Glass Ceiling this year despite the pandemic.

The space was created as an oasis for all walks of life. And the name ‘the glass ceiling has a higher purpose. It is a metaphor that has long been used to represent the invisible barriers that prevent women and underrepresented communities from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchy. We’re empowering the community to breakthrough ‘The Glass Ceiling’ with us. We have plenty to celebrate and welcome ALL of those wanting to join us.

3. You’re also a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) advocate and support women’s empowerment in the workplace. In your opinion, how can businesses best promote these important missions within their work environments?   

The ‘pipeline’ continues to leak, and not just for those in senior levels. If an organization is not investing in the pipeline early, providing opportunities for advancement, and developing that talent, it will dry up. Retention is a core issue for women in the workforce, and these past 18 months has created a ‘she-cession’ with more than 3 million women exiting the workforce. We work with dozens of companies providing their women (and male allies) with ‘real world’ advice, tools, and resources to advance, build, connect, and develop.

From supporting increased efforts around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging with programming to enhanced learning and leadership development opportunities, employee benefits and support (for example, remote work options, community access), and a robust digital platform and experience for your employees to truly feel invested in, Luminary exists to help support and empower these efforts in the workplace. If companies are not walking the talk, their retention issue will further deepen. We are here to work with and support these critical efforts for women.

4. Luminary opened in 2019, followed by The Glass Ceiling earlier this year. What led you to choose property locations in Flatiron/NoMad? What do you love most about being in these vibrant communities?

As mentioned earlier, when looking at real estate in NYC, I wanted something central, near public transportation with easy access, in the heart of a diverse neighborhood, and somewhere we as a company could make a real impact—bring new faces/customers to the local businesses, provide opportunities for employment, and deliver a space for women and male allies to convene, work, and connect. Luminary has often been compared to a co-working space, but we are so much more. Our space is merely one of our benefits in addition to the other amenities we provide, for example, fitness studio, meditation space, lactation room, showers, etc. Our differentiator is our community and our programming and events, in space and virtual. Flatiron/Nomad seemed like the right environment to not only open our physical doors but expand with The Glass Ceiling. We also love working with local businesses to support the neighborhood and have partnerships with MADE Hotel, Stumptown Coffee, and so many more. These are great perks for our members and ways to bring revenue to other businesses in the area. I am also a proud resident of the area!

Photo Credit: The Glass Ceiling 

5. What were your companies’ experiences with overcoming pandemic-related obstacles? What are any ongoing challenges you now face and how are they being managed by you and your team?

We lost 80% of our revenue in the first three months of the pandemic when our physical space had to temporarily close due to lockdown. We quickly went online to ensure our community had access to each other, our programming, and other incremental services we offer like The Luminary Collective, a marketplace for women-owned businesses. Immediately upon closing, our team started working on a plan to reopen safely with all precautions in place. Safety and the health of our community is our top priority, so when we reopened after lockdown and every day since then, we ensure that all members, visitors, and guests feel safe with procedures and policies to protect all who walk into our spaces.

It has been a challenge to keep going in this environment, but our community has grown, and we are working with many new companies looking for unique benefits for their employees, from programming to remote workspace. It’s great to see so many new faces in both Luminary and The Glass Ceiling and the vibrancy of the community. Being able to bring new people to the neighborhood through the power of our spaces is incredible to watch. However, we are still amid the pandemic and are being cautious. Every day presents its own challenges as a small business and for many business owners, doing business in this city isn’t always easy!

As a business also operating a restaurant and bar in the area, we want to ensure we’re being a responsible neighbor. We have a great team running The Glass Ceiling with vast experience, and we truly feel Luminary and The Glass Ceiling are critical to the business corridor. We hope the neighborhood feels the same way!

6. You’re the daughter of civil servants, earned degrees in political science and international relations, and worked in banking for two decades where you managed billions of revenue. What inspired you to make a career switch into entrepreneurship? For those aspiring to own their own business, what professional advice can you share?

I spent two decades in financial services leading global multibillion-dollar businesses. During this time, I also led many of the institutions’ women’s networks and saw the disproportionate number of men to women and women of color in the senior ranks. I recognized the problem was a lack of investment and development of talent in the female pipeline, rather than a lack of talent itself. This observation sparked a new direction for my own trajectory. In a sharp career pivot, I wrote a business plan and set out on a new mission to help women see a path toward advancement by arming them with the tools, resources, and community to propel them to the top—regardless of their professional journey. In early 2019, I launched and self-funded Luminary created to address the systemic challenges impacting women across all industries and sectors.

7. When you’re not at Luminary or The Glass Ceiling, how do you like to spend your time in the neighborhood?

I love just walking around the neighborhood. I always seem to run into Luminary members and now patrons of The Glass Ceiling. My partner and I make sure we eat local, supporting the businesses still here and many of the new restaurants opening. It was great to see the community come together to support each other these past 19 months, how we opened the streets, created more outdoor spaces, and have now been able to come back stronger than before. It is because of our businesses, the community itself thrives. Favorite spots include Stumptown for coffee, Black Seed for bagels, Nom for a quick salad, L’Adresse for great drinks, plus spectacular flatbread and calamari, Mark’s Off Madison for basically everything, and my new favorite Bar Benno! Honestly, there are so many to choose from; we never truly feel we must leave the area to meet great people and have a terrific experience. Shout out to City MD on 23rd Street, who has been a lifesaver as well, especially when I had COVID-19 last March and April.

8. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Diverse. Evolving. Energetic.