RIPLEY-GRIER STUDIOS: A PERSONAL HISTORY
“What’s Love got to do with it?” ...a lot!
In 1984, West Side Rehearsal Studios @ 131 West 72nd St. opened, with Patricia Ripley, manager, a well-known fitness teacher and former manager of The Lotte Berk Method on East 67th St and the Creative Energy Studios on West 72nd St. She and her business partner had split up and while looking for a new space she met a contractor on West 72nd Street renovating the 131 building. He was looking for a manager for rehearsal studios. “What are rehearsal studios?” she asked, (Duh!) An arrangement was made: she got her own teaching studio and became the manager of the West Side Rehearsal Studios.
Originally from the Jersey Shore, she had attended Monmouth College in Long Branch. She was a bartender at the iconic ‘Student Prince” club in Asbury Park , a mainstay venue in the hot music scene in Asbury Park in the late 60’s, early 70s. She then managed the famous Asbury Park nightclub “Pandemonium”. As the music scene exploded in Asbury Park after hours’ clubs formed. One night at the ” Upstage Club '' a quasi-private club for musicians, waitresses, bartenders and club owners in the Asbury Park social circles, she introduced a west coast music manager, Tinker West, to Bruce Springsteen. He became Bruce’s first manager; she worked as his assistant and co-produced Bruce’s first concert with his band “Child” at the Pandemonium. They were the opening act for the James Cotton Blues Band. In the summer of 1969 she and her partner, Ike, with a local musician, Donny Lubitz, his girlfriend, Diana drove their VW van to Woodstock for three days of “Peace, Music (and Mayhem)” In 1971, She and Ike left Jersey for Manhattan. In 1972 she trained and became an instructor at the Lotte Berk Method, a popular East Side fitness studio. She taught there for 7 years, managing the Manhattan & Bridgehampton studios. After suffering “ burnout”, she left NYC and moved to Florida. It was hot and boring. She moved back to Manhattan (having kept her apartment). She taught at Lotte Berk for 1 more year. In 1982 she moved to the West Side to open the Creative Energy Studios on West 72nd St.
Butch Grier was a stuntman/actor who had ridden his motorcycle up from Oklahoma to follow his acting/stuntman’s dream. He had previously toured with the Bugs Bunny Follies produced by Roger Hess. He was a stunt driver with the Tournament of Thrills: Mustang Auto Daredevils. He did car stunts on TV and in movies as a specialist appearing in ” Die Hard” with Bruce Willis, “Fire Down Below” with Steven Seagal and episodes of “America’s Most Wanted '' He was the stunt coordinator on the movie “The Spaghetti Incident”. In 1982 he found work as a waiter/manager at Captain Nemo restaurant on West 72nd Street.
Butch and Patricia met at Capt Nemo’s in 1982 where Butch was the day manager. Patricia spotted his motorcycle out front and said “is that your bike?” He responded “yeah, do you want to go for a ride for a couple of days?” Whew!! What a line! Off they went, in love and living together, poor, but happy. In the Spring of 1984 Butch was offered a management position at 410 Bank Street, a new restaurant in Cape May, owned by a film industry couple who attended Patricia’s class. Thus a long distance relationship, Patricia took a bus every weekend to visit. After the summer, Butch moved back to NY and worked for the contractor at 131.
In January 1986, that contractor defaulted on the lease at 131. Patricia and Butch took over the business the next day. (they had contacted the landlord months earlier when they found out the rent had not been paid). They incorporated as New York Spaces, Inc. and renamed the studios: West 72nd Street Studios. After borrowing money from Vicky, the owner of Captain Nemo, and pawning some jewelry they were able to fund the operation, but with no money to rent an apartment, they lived at 131. Their space was the 4th floor, 4R studio. Cleaning the studios at night and operating them during the day and Patricia taught her fitness classes. They slept on a futon on the floor in 4R, opened and ran the studios until night 7 days a week. They had a hotplate and a 13 inch tv with a hanger antenna. They ate rice and beans, soup, bread and pasta for two years. The days were long, the work was hard but they were independent, never to work for anyone else again. It was liberating! They had 5 studios on three floors.
In 1989, they acquired the 2nd floor. A reception office, a restroom w/shower, a kitchenette (bought a stove) were included. They converted a back storeroom into a bedroom. They created 2 studios from a front office and a loft office. They now had 7 studios. They lived in the back for two more years while building the business. They hired Jorge to clean (he is still with RG), and two receptionists. Two years later they decided their bedroom could be a studio (1R) for rent so they found a one bed/ two bath 1st floor duplex on W. 82nd St. & CPW. “It was heaven!”
As West 72nd Street Studios continued to prosper, their clients asked for more and larger spaces. They searched, and opened 939 8th Ave. in 1990 building 5 studios in old dance studio spaces, (total of 13 studios). They hired four staff members & a manager, Scott Eck. Acheiving a good reputation with the entertainment, dance and fitness community, they decided to expand again. In 1998 they began a long search for a suitable space. Taking a huge risk they leased space at 520 8th Ave on the 16th floor and built 7 studios. In 1999 the new studios were named the Ripley-Grier Studios.. That same year (in the middle of construction) they adopted the lovely Jean-Michelle. In 2001, breaking through a wall, they built a 2nd space in the back of the 16th floor and named that space RG II, they now had 12 studios. In 2002 they were offered space above RG II. The landlord built a stairway up to 4 more studios, RG III, now 16 studios in all. Total staff 10.
“Build them and they will come” became the motto.
In 2002, after 9/11, (and after many years renting in Manhattan) they moved out to Long Beach, Long Island looking for a permanent home to raise Jeannie. The commute was an hour by train. A beach town where the kids played in the street. Another dream came true.
In 2003, the front of the 16th floor at 520 opened up for rent and RG IV was created. Patricia had studied Feng Shui so she used those principles now to create and decorate the spaces. 10 more studios were added at the 520 location, now 36. Ripley-Grier Studios consisted of three locations. In 2005, more space became available in the 520 building on the 10th floor. RG 10th floor opened in May 2006 with a sub-tenant, “Shut Up and Talk”, a voiceover company in 5 of the 9 rooms. The RG 10 and other expansions made 43 studios.
In 2006 the last remaining space on the 16th floor was offered to RG. “Butch’s Cafe Oasis , executive offices, a breakroom and two studios were built. That same year Patricia and Butch began to produce a musical with Lynne Taylor-Corbett as director/choreographer. (they had previously produced several Off-Broadway showcases) Originally the play was called “Lorca” then “Deep Song” and lastly “The Flamenco Poet”. A very unique, creative (and stressful) educational experience (the show is still in the can).
In 2006, the last remaining space, on the 16th floor was offered to RG. “Butch’s Cafe Oasis”, executive offices, a breakroom and 2 studios were built. That same year, a dream of bringing Butch’s son, Shayne Grier and his family up from Tulsa, Oklahoma was fulfilled. They moved to Long Beach and Shayne joined Ripley-Grier. Heather, his wife, Jackson, Ethan and Brooklyn now lived in Long Beach. Shayne had spent many summers with Patricia and Butch when he was younger and loved New York. He was a comedian and wanted to pursue that in New York. In 2009, Butch and Patricia bought another house in Long Beach and the Griers moved into their former house.
In 2010, “Shut Up & Talk” left the 10th floor so RG took over those spaces, creating 5 more studios including a voiceover studio giving them 9 studios on the 10th floor. The same year 2 more studios were created out of spaces at 131 West 72nd. (52 studios).
In 2011, another addition occurred in the Ripley-Grier family, Griffin Noah Grier, Shayne and Heather’s 4th child was born on 1/4/2011, a real New Yorker. What a beautiful family!
In the Spring of 2012, Ripley-Grier Studios celebrated 25 years of serving the theater, entertainment and teaching community in New York. Voted #1 in the Backstage Readers Choice awards campaign every year. That year RG built two big beautiful studios on the 2nd floor at 939 8th Ave. 2A & 2B, (the 53rd and 54th studios). The staff increased to 25.
In the fall of 2012, Ripley-Grier was offered a large front space on the 17th floor at 520 and one of the largest projects in RG history was undertaken.and completed in 2013, right after the“Sandy” storm. This project ultimately increased the studios total by 12 to 66 studios. In the summer of 2015 a new studio was created on the 10th floor. As of 2016, Ripley-Grier Studios consisted of 67 studios. “The World’s Largest” rehearsal studio complex. Out of a storage room and an unused kitchen space RG created two more studios at 520 up to 69 Studios. In 2015 a space was added to the 939 location and studio 2C was created.
Still needing more space? Yep! Hiring a broker, Joe Harkins from Cushman & Wakefield, they went on the search. After months 305 West 38th St. became the 4th location. Again a dream come true. Out of 12 former dance studios, 22 studios, waiting areas and a performance space was created with a private entrance on West 38th St. The doors opened in September of 2017. Ripley-Grier Studios consisted of 92 spaces with a staff of 45.
Covid hit in 2020 and RG struggled along with everyone in the Entertainment Industry to make it through those bleak years. They continue to persevere to regain their momentum with the help of government programs and loans created Ripley-Grier Flexible Spaces as part of their group. In 2021 the last space on the 17th floor at 520 was offered to Ripley-Grier (their landlord made them an offer they couldn’t refuse). So they built 7 more studios and now had floor 16 and 17 and part of floor 10 in that building. Currently one more studio will be created at 520 and one more at 939. (100 studios/4 locations.)
Ripley-Grier Studios works diligently to create beautiful, clean, professional rehearsal and class space as well as developing studio/areas for readings, showcases, meetings, seminars and workshops and functions.
Why is this amazing success story a true New York story?
Ambition, the search for independence, some real estate savvy, the desire to create special places for artists , performers & teachers, hard work, tough decisions, patience and love created a thriving partnership between two very different people from different backgrounds. Meeting In their mid 30's they decided to change their life paths and move in one direction. Good Karma and Good Luck were important factors in keeping their business growing. Most importantly, in the 36 year history of this unique business, finding, hiring and keeping loyal, talented and hardworking staff members has added to an amazing story of growth and expansion in the greatest city in the world. Some staff members who have become managers also became fathers and mothers, raising their families while working at RG. Other staff members have moved on to pursue their careers. We are so grateful for all our staffs’ professionalism and loyalty. Thanks to the CSR’s, cleaners, managers and executives throughout the years who have been instrumental in the success of Ripley-Grier Studios and Ripley-Grier Flexible Spaces.
With Love, Patricia Ripley, Butch Grier, Shayne Grier & Jeannie Ripley-Grier