By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
“It’s fast. It’s sweaty. And it’s really addictive.” It’s Gaga, and you and your kids will be thrilled that it’s found a home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Gaga is a fast paced, high-energy sport played in an octagonal pit. Played with a soft foam ball, this safe game is fun and easy – and not at all traumatic like some other games we know that involve dodging a ball ;-) All children, of all skill levels, get a serious workout while having some serious fun!
The Gaga Center was created by friends Alissa Schmelkin and Marcy Singer in response to their 4 boys who had no place to play this beloved Israeli game. They finally found the perfect place on 93rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. The first of its kind and the only place to play Gaga in Manhattan, the Gaga Center is equipped with high ceilings, lots of natural light, three permanent pits and a state-of-the-art sound system. And their separate mezzanine level is the perfect place to host all of your celebrations!
BeautyNewsNYC.com had the incredible opportunity of chatting with the 2 mompreneurs who took their casual conversation in the park and turned it into a business reality. Read on to find out how Alissa Schmelkin and Marcy Singer took the ‘goo-goos’ of their babies and turned them into what is now the Gaga Center.
BNNYC: Write your bio in 5 sentences or less.
Marcy: I grew up on Long Island, and went to NYU for undergraduate school and then eventually to Teachers College at Columbia for my Masters in Teaching. Straight out of college, I began working in the business world as an associate at a corporate real estate firm. A few years later, I went back to school for teaching. I eventually left work to have my two adorable sons, Miles (7) and Luke (4). We live on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, and I enjoy nothing more than hanging out at home in sweatpants with my husband and kids and playing a good round of Jenga!
Alissa: I grew up in Long Beach, NY, and went to Cornell University for college, where I met my husband, Alex. After graduating, I went to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and spent most of my working years writing about banks at a daily newspaper called American Banker. About nine years ago, I stopped working to raise my children: Ben is almost 9; Nate is 5; and Nina is 7 weeks old. We live on the Upper East Side and spend a lot of time playing with friends and relaxing in the park.
BNNYC: What inspired you to start your own business? How did it all begin?
Marcy: I always knew I would eventually go back to work in some capacity when my kids got older. I didn’t think it would be quite this soon, but this idea was too good to pass up. Our boys love to play gaga, and their passion for the game inspired us. We were in Central Park a few days after Labor Day. The kids were playing and Alissa and I were catching up after the summer away from one another. Topic of conversation was “fall after-school classes.” We glanced over at the boys to see what they were doing, and they were playing a make-shift game of gaga! Alissa said, I wish there was a place we could sign them up for gaga. I said, “We need to open one.” The rest is history. A few years later, here we are with a Gaga Center on 93rd Street!
Alissa: Marcy’s recollection of the story is exactly how it happened. We weren’t trying to think of an idea. It just ‘fell in our laps’ and it was so good we had to go after it. We were bringing something brand new to Manhattan. It’s not often you think of something that doesn’t exist. I intended to eventually do freelance writing from home when my kids were all in school full-time, but that was going to be years away.
BNNYC: What challenges did you face when starting the Gaga Center?
Alissa: The biggest challenge we faced was finding the perfect space. We knew what we wanted, and we weren’t going to settle. It had to have a big open feel, high ceilings, and sunshine. All of that, combined with column spacing to fit three large gaga pits, wasn’t easy to find.
Marcy: We were at a point last spring where we thought we had to let it go, as it became more and more discouraging. We must have looked at over 50 spaces before we landed at this one. The second biggest challenge was finding a landlord that was willing to take the risk on a start-up. Not many people took us seriously. When you tell people you are planning to open a gaga center, you can imagine they thought we were crazy!
BNNYC: What are some of your favorite activities to do with your kids in NYC?
Marcy: It is really the simple things I enjoy doing with the kids in NYC. Riding scooters down Park Avenue, a picnic in Central Park, stopping to listen to a talented musician playing on a street corner. You can never get bored in this city!
Alissa: Mister Softie is an after-school treat that never seems to get old! We get ice cream and then spend long afternoons walking through and playing in Central Park. Our favorite store in Manhattan is the Lego Store in Rockefeller Center.
BNNYC: You’re on a desert island…with your kids – name 5 must-have items you’ll want with you (for you, your kids, etc.).
Marcy: On a dessert island with my kids, 5 must haves would be…a deck of cards, an ipod filled with our favorite music, a notebook, Smartwater, and a ball!
Alissa: I’ll stick with Marcy’s ball, deck of cards, and music. I would also throw in sand toys, and a big package of wipes!
BNNYC: What are your goals for the future of the Gaga Center (realistically speaking and in your wildest dreams)?
Marcy: Our goals for The Gaga Center are quite simple. We would like to fill the center everyday with children and adults who enjoy the game. In our wildest dreams is a question that keeps coming up. We always have the same answer: Anything is possible!