I am referring to Privately Owned Public Spaces, not those cupcakes on a stick that they sell at Starbucks. Those are just weird. Though they are only 170 calories and they're darn cute. But I digress.
Public space changed my life the first time in '99, when I met my husband on a street corner. Now it's changing my business life -- who knew that all one has to do is go out in public? I guess on some level I did.
As with most things in my crazy-sexy-cool life, I came upon the POPS serendipitously. [Disclaimer: Please note that my characterization of my life may be highly exaggerated given that I have an eight-year-old son, a pile of bills to pay, and an anxiety disorder. But at least on Tuesdays, I have a crazy-sexy-cool life.]
I was trying to find retail space in New York City for a potential Matchmaker Café site that would fit into my budget. My budget was a maximum of $0. A girl can dream. I came across the empty space in Lincoln Center, next to the Apple store, that used to be Ollie's, and I noticed that it was empty and locked. I was walking down that block on a frigid winter Tuesday because it is the same block where my husband and I met on the street, incidentally. For those of you who believe in fate, this fact is significant.
I did a quick survey of the premises, knowing that the space had been a public space and having a gut feeling that it wasn't supposed to be closed. I had no understanding of POPS or their legalities, but something seemed fishy. Thanks to the handy "Open to Public" POPS sign and to the magic of Google, I had the email address of Professor Jerold Kayden, within minutes. He literally wrote the book on the POPS. And within a few more minutes, he emailed me back!
So, short story long, we had a phone meeting and I was told that yes, it's true, that POPS is not allowed to be closed. But no, in fact, I could not make a Matchmaker Café in that space for free, even if it is benefitting the public, because that would be commercialization of the space. I was crushed. But he invited me to his conference at Harvard to learn more about public space and its uses. It was a free conference. And my old stomping grounds. So I went. It was a crazy snow storm but I put on my Dickie's coveralls that have a Matchmaker Café patch on them and I got on the train.
I discovered that Matchmaker Café and public space had a lot in common. My philosophy in my dating business is that people have to connect in the real world, out in the public domain. We have online dating and social media and that's all so great and efficient. But it's no replacement for the power of true human connection. Public space is a perfect hotbed for communal interaction, but they need the design and stewardship that a private entity or person has to bring.
Years ago, before online dating existed, when I was single, I created a café that had a dating service for our customers. It was called Drip. We made hundreds of marriages. We were on Oprah. We had a Cheers-like group of regulars that all coupled off and had babies with each other. Then the Internet killed my concept.
But you see, I believed (and still do) that a real life Matchmaker Café is still needed. And it is time for it to make its comeback. I still had that pesky rent budget to contend with.
So here's the punchline. I met with Jerold after his conference on a crazy-sexy-cool Tuesday, which happened to fall on a Wednesday that week. He told me that the city had lifted the ban on commercialization of the POPS downtown in the Financial District for the summer. It is part of a post-Hurricane Sandy revitalization project and I could apply for it. Well, I did, and I got it!
Low and behold, I found a space in NYC that fit into my budget. And now I am embarking on a mission to help people find love in public space this summer. I did. You can too. Come visit and get involved if you believe in what we're doing. Like us at www.facebook.com/MatchmakerCafeApp and I'll keep you posted!
Follow Nancy Slotnick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MatchmakerCafe