A feud is escalating between two unlikely candidates: a Manhattan breastfeeding boutique and the condo board of the high-end building where the store is housed. The boutique, cleverly named the Upper Breast Side, occupies the ground floor of the Pythian, a historic apartment building that was, ironically, built as an all-male lodge.
The UBS is operated by Felina Rakowski-Gallagher, a woman who has sought to create a space where women can navigate the complicated world of breastfeeding. Rakowski-Gallagher is fighting against the condo board’s claim that the UBS violates the building’s zoning, because instead of being a resource center, its function is primarily commercial. Although purchases certainly happen within UBS, Rakowski-Gallagher claims that it is a “community facility.”
She has support from breastfeeding activists and other members of the women’s health community. “When mothers leave the hospital, are we going to throw them to the wolves, or are we going to provide support?” asked Marsha Walker, executive director of the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy. “If it’s zoned for community service, well, that’s exactly what’s being provided.”
The issue of what exactly constitutes a “community facility” is up for debate. According to the city rules, it must provide “educational, recreational, religious, health or other essential services for the community it serves.” Although Rakowski-Gallagher, a former cop whose stated aspiration is to be “the woman who put easier breast-feeding on the map of New York City, and made it something as ordinary as eating pie and talking on your cell phone,” thinks that UBS is providing an essential service, the line between a commercial and medical facility is admittedly hard to draw.
Doctors sell products, as the NYT points out, but does that mean that UBS counts as a medical facility? It’s, of course, hard to say why the condo board seems so opposed to UBS – whether it’s because of the somewhat-taboo nature of their products and services, or because they genuinely think that UBS is violating the zoning rules. Rakowski-Gallagher, too, has an interest in protecting her business as well as providing a service. But there’s a compelling argument to be made that because breastfeeding can be intimidating and products difficult to know how to use, a store like this which doesn’t merely sell breastfeeding accoutrements but teaches women how to use them does constitute a public service.
What do you think? Should UBS be allowed to stay open – and why or why not?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.