In what the NY Times terms a new "front...in the breast-feeding wars," a breastfeeding boutique is locked in combat with the real estate gods of Gotham.
Upper Breast Side, founded by former police officer Felina Rakowski-Gallagher is, she says, much more than a mere store for pumps and nursing bras. Rather, it's a "community facility" that provides much-needed support and advice to new mothers navigating the often-intimidating world of breastfeeding. The Times describes the store's activities:
In addition to selling gear, the Upper Breast Side refers customers to lactation consultants and doctors; hosts a weekly "latch-on clinic" for women struggling to get their babies to, well, latch on; and matches up customers with properly fitting bras. At a counter referred to as the "milk bar," bleary-eyed new mothers and their partners learn how to work a pump (the session is free if they buy one, $50 if not).
But all is not peaceful and loving with the buiding's condo board (ironically, built decades ago as a men's-only facility.) They've slapped UBS with a fine for leaving its door ajar; Rakowski-Gallagher hit back with a discrimination suit — the door was too unwieldy for mothers with babies and strollers — and won. Now, the board claims that the business has violated the condo's rental terms: the space is designed to house not shops but medical services, and UBS, they say, skews too much in the former camp.
Rakowski-Gallagher, meanwhile, feels the two are inextricably bound — and that providing cool nursing gear is yet another necessary service. In her words, "Are you going to nurse in something that looks like a stretched-out athletic sock, or do you want to wear a completely blinged-out HOTmilk or Marlies Dekkers nursing bra that looks just like what Lady Gaga wears? Nursing is normal. And normal means that you can be really gorgeous." (For legal purposes, she'd do well to keep lactating and Gaga out of the same sentence.)
Naturally, the controversy has led to Bigger Conversations and raises hackles on both sides of the nursing divide — even if it is essentially a real estate dispute. Says one woman, writing into the Times,
I just want to say that The Upper Breast Side was the only resource I could afford (free!) when I was nursing my daughter back in 2003 and had major problems. I was about to give up at 4 days in when my husband found them on the web, went there and was literally showered with information and help. We couldn't afford an in-home lactation consultant as the hospital recommended. The owner and all the other clients who were there gave him all the information and "tools" we needed. This is one of the most valuable resources for nursing women in the city. It would be a crime to take any action that made it less available to new mothers.
At the same time, though, one could argue that any good store provides more than just product. As another reader comments,
As a nursing mom, I support anything that promotes breastfeeding, but that doesn't entitle her store to special rules and this is definitely a store. Most baby stores have some informational component because it's good for their customers and it promotes sales. Even BabiesRUs has demonstrations on various subjects such as car seat installation, and child safety.
The medical/retail divide can be murky — but even doctors aren't above hawking products. At the end of the day, should it come down to what generates the most revenue? Is UBS asking for special treatment because of the nature of the service? And, more to the point — as someone providing something few people do — does the store deserve an exception? Breastfeeding is a heated topic, but add NYC real estate to the mix, and you're set for a battle royale.