A SALUTE TO UNION SQUARE: Powerful women changing the landscape


At a time when six women have already declared their candidacy for president of the United States in 2020 and Congress boasts a record number of female representatives, it’s undeniably the year of the woman. Locally, nowhere is this more true than in Union Square.

From destination retailers and cutting-edge Off-Broadway theaters, to small businesses and large city enterprises, women are in positions of power and are dramatically changing the landscape of the Union Square-14th St. community. One only needs to walk through the bustling neighborhood to experience an urban success story. Thanks to numerous projects spearheaded by women, the future is bright.

New City Councilmember Carlina Rivera has brought energy — and participatory budgeting, among other things — to the district. (Courtesy Union Square Partnership)

“A dynamic group of women is driving the positive change in our community on virtually every level. said Jennifer E. Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, herself a leading woman in the district. “Women work together to get things done.”

Since 2007, Falk has led successful efforts to transform and modernize the district, including not only championing the visionary $20 million renovation of Union Square Park’s north end, but also mapping out a sustainable future for the vital commercial, residential and transportation hub. Falk effortlessly recounts the contributions of a long list of women to the growth and dynamism that define the area today.

Lori and Susan Buchbinder, co-principals of Buchbinder & Warren, at 1 Union Square West, a real estate brokerage and management company, took over the business co-founded by their father, Norman Buchbinder, after his death in 2007. An area pioneer who helped found USP, he instilled in his daughters a commitment to the community. Each year they present the Norman Buchbinder Community Leadership Award to someone who exemplifies his passion, community leadership and vision for change.

Lori Buchbinder, listened, second from right, at the dedication of Norman Buchbinder Way. She and her sister Susan are co-principals of the real estate company founded by their father. Also at the event was Councilmember Margaret Chin, fourth from right. (Courtesy Union Square Partnership)

“Union Square is very much a part of our DNA and the Union Square Partnership is an extended family to us,” Lori Buchbinder said. “It’s made us a destination for New Yorkers and visitors. We have retail tenants and employees and office tenants who want to visit Union Square. That’s why we are very active in the Partnership — we know the importance of collaboration.”

Women are at the forefront of Union Square’s rich cultural scene. Tony Award-winning producer Daryl Roth has been bringing groundbreaking theater productions to the Off-Broadway Daryl Roth Theatre, at 101 E. 15th St., since 1996. Women’s issues are in the spotlight this year with “Gloria: A Life,” a play about the life of women’s-rights activist Gloria Steinem, which ended in March, and “Accidentally Brave,” a one-woman play now running about a wife’s efforts to cope with stunning news about her husband.

Suzanne Appel, a USP board member, joined the Vineyard Theater, at 108 E. 15th St., in 2017 and is bringing new perspective to the Off-Broadway theater. Her counterpart, Toni Marie Davis, chief operating officer/general manager of the Classic Stage Company, at 131 E. 13th St., is in the running for a 2019 Drama League Award for the theater’s revival of the musical “Carmen Jones.” This season she’s bringing “Macbeth” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” to the stage.

Jennifer E. Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, left, and Lynne P. Brown, N.Y.U. senior vice president, are two of the district’s leading power women. (Courtesy Union Square Partnership)

Another district cultural draw, The Strand Book Store, at Broadway and E. 12th St., is owned by Nancy Bass Wyden, who has run the literary destination since 2017. Visitors spend hours at The Strand browsing through books old and new, people watching and attending events in the store’s Rare Book Room, featuring conversations with cultural icons and emerging literary talents.

Women are also adding their culinary passion and expertise to the district’s vibrant food scene. Katherine Moore, general sales manager of USQ Wine & Spirits, at 140 Fourth Ave., and a USP board member, brings years of knowledge to her work selling a well-curated list of wines in the store’s relaxed atmosphere and has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years. Like The Strand, the store holds special events and tastings that give visitors from throughout the city another reason to spend time in the neighborhood.

“I’ve watched the transformation from a neighborhood dark and deserted by 6 p.m. to a vibrant destination neighborhood populated by a multigenerational bevy of shoppers, diners and energetic participants in programmed activities,” Moore said. “The evolution of sanitation services and public-safety coordination with law enforcement provided by the Union Square Partnership are the prime reasons for this new status.”

As executive director of the 14th Street Y, Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein has been a leading voice in the district for the past five years. She brings an expansive array of inclusive cultural and educational programming to the community, from preschool classes to fitness programs for seniors, and is leading an effort to develop a new and improved facility for the vital community center to call home.

Jessica Lawrence Quinn, who has more than a decade of management experience in New York’s growing technology sector, joined Civic Hall, a nonprofit focused on advancing the use of technology for public good, in 2017. As chief operating officer, she is on the frontlines of one of Union Square’s most ambitious projects, the cutting-edge Union Square Tech Center a.k.a. “Tech Hub,” coming to 124 E. 14th St. Civic Hall will be the anchor tenant, with a large-scale digital training center, conference space and extensive community programming.

Frances A. Resheske, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Con Edison, headquartered at 4 Irving Place, is continuing the legacy of Charles Luce, founding chairman of USP, and carrying on the tradition of working to bring community and private resources together to maintain and enhance the neighborhood.

“Coming to work at Union Square is like having a second home in New York,” Resheske said. “The neighborhood is welcoming and filled with cultural opportunities and terrific businesses, and much of it is due to the tireless work of the Partnership. Con Edison has been proud to call Union Square the home of our headquarters, and we remain very committed to seeing the community grow and flourish.”

With her first year behind her representing District 2 on the New York City Council, Carlina Rivera is constantly out in the Union Square neighborhood and “her energy level hasn’t let up,” said USP’s Falk. Rivera, who is co-chairperson of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, led the district’s first inclusion in the Council’s participatory-budgeting process to determine which community projects the Council would fund with a $1 million allocation for capital spending. She kicked off the effort on Union Square’s South Plaza.

Lynne P. Brown, president and co-chairperson of USP’s board, is senior vice president for university relations and public affairs at New York University, and uses her extensive experience as a nonprofit leader to help drive USP’s community-building activities.

“I first traveled from Washington Square to Union Square in the mid-1990s to learn more about this neighborhood to the north to see if it would be a good location for some of N.Y.U.’s facilities, including dorms and offices,” Brown said. “The rest is history, as they say, and 25 years later, Union Square has transformed into one of the most vibrant, energetic — and delicious — destinations. It is the best place in the city to buy food, eat, exercise, shop and, of course, see young people. N.Y.U. alone now has thousands of students living in and enjoying the neighborhood. Union Square was a game-changer for N.Y.U., and we are excited to be part of its exciting future.”

Rosemary Paparo, Buchbinder & Warren’s director of management, whose team of account executives manage more than 100 Manhattan properties, joined the company in 1977 and lives and works in the neighborhood. She said the fact that women are succeeding in the Union Square community is no surprise.

“Lori and Susan [Buchbinder] and I were brought up the same way,” she said. “We were raised not to question the fact that we could carry on and excel as well as any man. There was never a question that we would be held back.”