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 as the manager. Previously she was an exercise/dance teacher in a fitness studio next door at 133 W. 72nd St., ”Creative Energy Studio” She and her partner split and when looking for another space she met a contractor who was building a three story addition to 131. He was looking for a manager for his rehearsal studios. “What are rehearsal studios?”, she asked, (Duh!) They worked out an arrangement and she became the manager of West Side Rehearsal Studios. As part of the deal she was given her own studio to teach classes.
Originally from the Jersey Shore, she went to Monmonuth College in Long Branch, and worked as a bartender and nightclub manager in Asbury Park. She was a part of Bruce Springsteen’s original managerial staff and produced his first concert at the Pandemonium nightclub with the James Cotton Blues Band. After moving to Manhattan in 1971, she trained at the The Lotte Berk Method, a popular East Side fitness studio and became an instructor in 1972, worked at the Manhattan and Bridgehampton studios for 7 years. Moved to Florida briefly, got restless and moved back to New York.
Butch Grier was managing a seafood restaurant, “Captain Nemo’” on W. 72nd St. He was a stuntman/actor who had driven up from Tulsa, Oklahoma on his motorcycle. He had been doing gigs with Roger Hess and The Bugs Bunny Tours. He started his career as a stunt driver in the Tournament of Thrills: Mustang Auto Daredevils.
They met at Capt Nemo’s in 1982. 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, they were poor, but happy. In the spring of 1984, Butch moved to Cape May, NJ to manage a new restaurant, 410 Bank Street, owned by a film industry couple who attended Patricia’s classes. It was a long distance relationship, Patricia took busses every weekend to visit. After the summer, Butch moved back to NY and worked for the contractor at 131.
In 1986, that contractor defaulted on his lease at 131 and Patricia and Butch took over the business in the winter of 1987, then they incorporated as New York Spaces, Inc and renamed the studios: West 72nd Street Studios. They had to borrow money and pawn jewlery to fund the operation. They lived in the 4th floor studio, 4R for two years.
They cleaned the studios at night, operated them during the day sleeping on the floor, opened them up in the morning. They had a hotplate, a futon and a 13 inch tv with a hanger for an antenna. They ate beans and rice, soup, bread and pasta for two years The days were long, the work hard, but they never worked for anyone else again. It was liberating! They had 5 studios on three floors. In 1989, they took over the 2nd floor in the building and opened a reception office and two more studios. They converted a storeroom in the back of that floor into a bedroom and lived there for two more years, while building the business. They hired Jorge as the cleaner (still with RG). Deciding that if they converted the bedroom into a money making studio they could afford to move out and rent a proper apartment. They found a one bedroom duplex on W. 82nd St. near Central Park. It was heaven.
The business continued to prosper. They needed more and larger spaces, they expanded to 939 8th Avenue and built 5 studios in an old dance studio space in 1990. They hired four staff members and a manager, Scott Eck. They had 13 studios in all. Business was good and in 1998 they decided to expand again and began a long search for a suitable space. They took a huge risk and leased space at 520 8th Ave on the 16th floor and built 7 studios, called RG I. They named the new studios the Ripley-Grier Studios in 1999. That same year and in the middle of construction they adopted the lovely Jean-Michelle. In 2001, breaking through a wall, they built RG II, they now had 25 studios. In 2002 they were offered space above RG I and the landlord build a stairway up to 4 more studios, RG III, now 29 studios in all. The staff increased to 10.
“Build them and they will come” became the motto.
In 2001, after 9/11, (and many years renting) they moved out of Manhattan looking for a permanent home. Long Beach, Long Island was the town they chose to raise Jeannie. The commute was an hour by train. A place where the kids played in the street and the beach was a block away. A dream come true.
RG IV opened in 2003, in the front space on the 16th floor. Patricia had studied Feng Shui and created the spaces to reflect those principles. 10 studios added. Ripley-Grier Studios now consisted of three locations, 39 studios. 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. With RG 10 they had 43 studios.
That same year, Patricia and Butch began to produce a musical with Lynne Taylor-Corbett as director/choreographer. (They had prevously produced Off Broadway showcases)
Originally the play was called “Lorca”, then “Deep Song”, and lastly “The Flamenco Poet”. A very unique and educational experience. (This show is still in the can).
In 2006, the last remaining space in the front of the 16th floor was offered to RG. A cafe,“Butch’s Cafe Oasis”, executive offices, a breakroom and two studios were built. Now RG 520 had the whole 16th floor.
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 the company. 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 and Talk” moved out of the 10th floor and RG took over those spaces, creating 5 more studios including a voiceover studio adding up to 9 studios on the 10th floor. The same year 2 more studios were created out of spaces at RG 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 theatre, entertainment and teaching community in New York. Voted #1 in the Back Stage Reader’s 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 a 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 of negotiations, 305 West 38th St. became the 4th location. It was a dream come true. Out of 12 former dance studios 22 studios including waiting areas and two performance spaces was created, along with a private entrance with stairs and an elevator. The doors opened in September of 2017, now Ripley-Grier Studios consisted of 92 spaces with a staff of 45, many who have been with RG for over 10 years.
Negotiations have begun on creating additional spaces on the 17th floor and a separate entrance at 520 for Ripley-Grier Studios, floor 10, 16 and 17.
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. Creating performnce spaces at 305 is the current project.
Why is this amazing success story a true New York story?
Ambition, 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. 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 33 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 have become managers, while becoming fathers and mothers, raising their families while working at RG. Some have moved on to pursue their careers. We are so grateful for their professionalism and loyalty. Thanks to the managers and staff throughout the years who have been instrumental in the success of Ripley-Grier Studios.
Patricia Ripley, Butch Grier, Shayne Grier, Jeannie Ripley-Grier & the Ripley-Grier Family