My LES: Melissa Errico

Photo by Alex M. Smith.

Photo by Alex M. Smith.

My LES For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with Broadway star and Bowery Babes founder Melissa Errico.

 

How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?

I feel compelled to point out that when I moved here, my street was called “The Lower East Side” by Corcoran Realty, but since then it has become known as “Nolita.” I moved here in 1997.

Why did you move here?

I moved here because I didn’t want to live in my husband’s apartment building on Central Park West. I thought the Upper West Side would turn me into a wife and mom way before I was ready. I’m sure it has nothing to do with his apartment building, but I felt something creepy about it. As our wedding approached, everyone asked us about when we were going to have kids and I don’t recall feeling that there was a whole lot of variety of people or choices. I had this idea that if we moved to the LES, we would be free and less likely to be defined in any way. Of course, we now have three kids and my career is, well, my career is what every actor’s career is — insane.

What do you do?

Oh, I just mentioned it. I am an actor. I am a singing actor really: melissaerrico.com.

You can find a lot of singing on YouTube. Search “Melissa Errico” or click this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=few5dN8sTuU

Tell us about your apartment: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Our apartment building was a chocolate factory. I believe the developer had to kick some wonderfully funky residents out 15 years ago and that was probably super uncool for a bunch of people. We bought raw space and just accepted whatever fixtures came “free” with the price. Most people in this building ripped out their stuff and customized their homes. We were super economical and haven’t changed one faucet. Whatever came with the price was fine by us.

The good is that I love it and I can see a lot of sky. The bad is that if I enjoy my bathtub too much, I drown my neighbor downstairs. I’ve had to pay to fix his dining room a few times. I think I may need to renovate the bathtub. The ugly is honestly the smell of smoke from a certain neighbor. She’s a perfectly nice person but really cigarettes are killing her and I’m not that keen on dying (even a little) for her habit. I have a neighbor whose kids never go to bed, and I don’t mind the running feet. I have another neighbor who likes some serious house music and I think has some dames around. I like New York.

Favorite cheap eats?

We like Bianca on Bleecker and Elizabeth. We call it “cheap and cheerful.”

Favorite place for a special night?

Its always a sign that my husband and I are in the mood for rekindling some super vibes if we go to Pylos on Sixth Street. We become very happy there, we relax, we feel welcome by the wonderful staff and we always chat with some fun people at the communal table.

How have you seen the neighborhood change?

Its getting a little alarming. American Apparel, billboards, nicer and nicer shops everywhere you turn. I am not completely worried but it is starting to seem a bit too posh. And there are so many drugstores! Is everyone in need of cotton balls 24 hours a day? Another change I have seen is the invention of The Bowery Babes (bowerybabes.com), of which I am the founder. Seven years ago, when I got pregnant with my first child, there was no mothers’ community that I could find. There were some services and some prenatal yoga classes, but there wasn’t a website or a way to meet for classes, for playgroups and for general connection.

In 2005, I met 12 women at a prenatal yoga class on the Bowery, and thus a community grew. I worked really hard, starting with a Yahoo! group. Connecting neighbors, connecting people with like circumstances — be it autism, divorce or something as simple as “you two should meet.” I was like a dating service for mothers! And clearly women need Bowery Babes, and enjoy it. I have gotten so many letters of appreciation that my heart is touched and inspired regularly.

Eventually the one little Yahoo! group grew to eight Yahoo! groups and eventually I had volunteers really helping manage its popularity; and we got a unified website with a great chat board… and, over time… classifieds, and forums for deals and discounts, as well as spiritual guidance and many educational offerings, and outreach for everything from nutrition, allergies, adoption, fertility and more.

Now it is almost 2,000 families, has a great spirit and was incorporated as a nonprofit 501c3 in 2009. I am running out of energy to run the whole thing but I am amazed by how it has been sustained by our amazing board of directors and a lot of members who realize that it is a beautiful thing. Membership is free. The goal is to connect neighborhood mothers and create a haven for ideas and support.

What do you miss from the old LES?

I badly miss The Kitchen Club. When Marja had to close that place, I knew an epoch was ending. She was really a major neighborhood star, the truest of authentic New York restaurant owners. Do you remember her? And her dog Chibi?

Is there a new arrival you love?

I like Petrosino Triangle. Its a little mini-park near Centre Street and Lafayette. It used to be a wasteland. I heard it cost two million dollars to spruce it up. I am really big fan of the idea of taking any mini-lots anywhere on the LES and creating parks, or sitting areas. Anything that creates an oasis anywhere is crucial to our spirit. We need them, even if they are tiny spaces. I’m also delighted that the New Museum came to the Bowery. I have yet to spend much time there, but I have really enjoyed my visits.

What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?

Not that many things. I’m not a huge fan of the San Gennaro Festival but I know it’s kind of fun too. “Drown The Clown” used to be under my window so for over a decade I listened to him yelling obscenities for 10 hours a day, and being drowned for it. What a crazy career, I should shut up. Broadway musicals can feel similarly brutal.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?

It has to be something to do with Hurricane Sandy. Maybe it was the corner of Elizabeth and Houston during the blackout. Literally there was one corner where you could get cell reception. No one had electricity to charge their phones. So, we would all go to this one corner and connect to the world. No one had showered, or eaten normal food in days. We were all standing within a foot of each other, being tolerant, seeing each other trying to stay connected to the rest of the world. To think that about 40 blocks up, people were living like nothing happened.

I never left the neighborhood and was really fascinated by the darkness and the challenges it all posed. My building was mostly abandoned by the end of the week. I think it was eight days we had no power and limited water. The city was so weak and it really was scary. I pray for us all that we don’t have more challenges ahead. It is so easy to forget and just go back to being busy bees.

Tell us your best LES memory.

I loved the baptism of our twins at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. While I don’t consider myself deeply religious, I do go to church. We had a baptism there a few years ago and it was really a wonderful occasion. That is the original St. Patrick’s, dating back to 1806. The St. Patrick’s uptown was built like 50 years later. The one on Mott Street is known as the Old Cathedral, and it feels like Europe in and around it. It feels really special.

I remember when I was an art history major in college, I went on a trip to Europe and went to small towns like Chartres just to see their incredible cathedrals. My friend Erin Hill, aka “Erin and The Psychedelic Harp,” is a Celtic rock/pop electric harp player and singer; and she came to the baptism and added music. So, we had a psychedelic fairy at the event, which was really inspiring. The baptism was one of those things where many random families were doing their baptisms that same day. No one complained about the music — in fact, they got a free show!