Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wednesdays at Michael's by Diane Clehane

A Conversation with Silda Wall Spitzer on New York Makers

Leslie Stevens, Diane Clehane and Silda Wall Spitzer
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I was really looking forward to today’s lunch with Silda Wall Spitzer. When our mutual friend, Leslie Stevens, invited me to join them for lunch, I jumped at the chance. I’d met Silda years ago in this very dining room (Where else?) when a fellow Michael’s chronicler, David Patrick Columbia of New York Social Diary, introduced us. In our brief exchange back then, I was struck by her warmth and grace. She’s a class act.

She’s also one very smart cookie. Silda’s career has spanned the public, private and nonprofits sectors. “The one thing that holds my positions together was that they were all about building sustainable, resilient communities,” she told me between bites of shrimp salad. Most people know her as the former First Lady of New York state during which time she launched show-the-way green buildings, alternative energy, and local food initiatives. A Harvard educated lawyer who practiced corporate law at Skadden Arps and later at Chase Manhattan Bank, Silda has also served as managing director at Metropolitan Capital Advisors, a woman-owned investment firm. She was the co-founder/leader of Children for Children which is now Points of Light’s generationOn and is still active within the organization.

Somehow, in addition to being one of the busiest and most philanthropically minded New Yorkers you could imagine, Silda is currently the CEO and publisher of NewYorkMakers.com, the first private, statewide digital marketplace and magazine. Oh, and she’s senior advisor at NewWorld Capital Group, a private equity firm investing in environmental opportunities, where she was also director and principal.  Where does she find the time? “I think you just learn how to juggle. You can’t do it all at once but you can do it when you sequence it out. Sometimes you to have pace yourself.”

Silda, who grew up in Concord, North Carolina and has just a trace of a southern accent, was brimming with enthusiasm as she told me about all the exciting things going on with New York Makers which she started in 2012 with Christine Murphy. (The site was originally NewYorkStatesofMind.com) Today, Amanda DiRobella serves as COO and editor-in-chief of New York Makers, both the magazine and the marketplace. Silda explained New York Makers’ twofold mission thusly: The first is creating a curated digital platform for New York makers to reach a broader audience of shoppers looking for unique and well-crafted products across a wide variety of categories from food to glassware to pet accessories all made by New Yorkers. And second, to build a more highly engaged statewide community by sharing the amazing stories of New York makers of all types, along with destinations, experiences and ideas from all parts of the state. “I love the label social entrepreneur,” said Silda. “It’s a California term. It means having your livelihood align with your purpose and your values align with your work. For me, the ideal [situation] is being able to combine both into one.”

As co-founder of New York Makers, Silda told me she has traveled all over New York State in search of unique people – artists, creatives and foodies -- and products yet to be discovered by a broad audience. “I’ve visited all 62 counties and met amazing people in remarkable places. I’ve been very fortunate.” (I bet you had no idea there were that many counties in the state. I certainly didn’t.) She’s always loved the Hudson Valley -- “It’s a home base for me” -- but has now added a host of destinations around the state to her ever-growing list of favorite places. “I love every corner of the state!” Some of her must-see spots: Pines Plains, the Adirondacks, Cooperstown, Jamestown, the Finger Lakes, Corning (“The museum with all the blown glass is incredible!”) and The Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill. She also reeled off several places I’d never even heard of before including Millerton (“a great little town”).

Silda was equally passionate when she talked about the people she’s met since launching New York Makers. They are currently working with close to 100 makers -- vendors and artisans -- who undergo a thorough vetting process overseen by marketplace director Audra Herman. “It’s a big job,” she said. As for the makers themselves, Silda offered them high praise. “They are among the most talented, creative hard-working, dedicated and generous people you are ever going to meet. They live community every day.”

The site seamlessly blends a content-rich magazine that covers everything from notable products, restaurants and locavore-inspired recipes to outdoor and indoor events and activities and destinations for weekend getaways. Each month, the magazine features a different “New York State of Mind” and profiles one maker. October is “spirited” and as such, there’s exhaustive information on spooky destinations and experiences like The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor and NYC’s Village Halloween Parade. There’s also a terrific story on New York State’s Most Haunted Places. I want to visit Durand Eastman Park in Rochester to see ‘The White Lady’ – a haunting image that appeared on a huge old tree after a bad storm earlier this year. Trust me, it’s terrifying. Just check it out on the New York Makers website. On the shopping platform, there’s also a terrific assortment of fun products including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow a book illustrated by Will Moses (Grandma Moses grandson!) When visitors to the site opt to buy a product (the cost of shipping is built in), they can also click on the product for a brief bio on the maker. In November, the site will focus on “Gratitude” and December will be “Giving” complete with an extensive gift guide sure to delight even the pickiest shopper or gift recipient. New York Makers will also have in-store collections at Young & Able’s La Femme/Holiday Markets at Refinery Hotel and Park Central on November 24-30 which is celebrating women-owned businesses.

Advocating for the people and places of New York through New York Makers is a business that is seemingly tailor-made for Silda. Last month she interviewed Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his husband Brent Ridge about their New York-based lifestyle brand, The Beekman Boys at the 92 Street Y. “I call them the Fabulous Beekman Boys because they are fabulous!”

Having originally launched the site with a stronger focus on the magazine, Silda told me they have since “flipped the model” and are now building a “sustainable business model” that gives these regional merchants access to a much broader customer base while sharing their inspiring stories. “The power of the marketplace is a real driver,” said Silda as we said our good-byes. “It’s about discovering all the amazing things that are going on right in our own backyard.”

If you want to find out more about New York Makers, they will have a pop up shop this Saturday at Crown Maple’s Annual Fall Festival at the Crown Maple Estate in Dover Plains this weekend. See you there!



Seen & Heard Around the Room:

They were packed in tight at Table One where Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller and Penske Media’s Gerry Byrne hosted their monthly movers and shakers lunch. A little birdie told me they somehow managed to squeeze thirteen people around Table One. Among the fray I spotted WWD’s editor Miles Socha, journalist Vicky Ward, Starz’s Colleen Curtis (I would have loved to talk to her about Outlander but it was so nutty there today I barely got out of there with my life!), Hitha Herzog, Liz Claman, Loree Sutton, actress Alysia Reiner (“Orange is the New Black”), Rick Rocha.

Plenty of the usual suspects were there too: James Cohen was lunching with Bob Guccione (Long time no see!) on Table Three … Freddie Gershon on Four … Producer Jean Doumanian on Five … Euan Rellie raising a glass with a scrum of money men on Six … New York Diary’s David Patrick Columbia on Eight as usual with Jamee Gregory. Silda stopped to chat with them on her way out.

And there’s more: Lucianne Goldberg and a gaggle of gals celebrating something on Twelve … British Heritage Travel’s CEO Jack Kliger on Fourteen … Fashionista Fern Mallis on Sixteen … Robert Zimmerman on Seventeen … PR man Tom Goodman on Twenty-five.

- Diane Clehane
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