For 10 Years, He's Kept Tribeca Business Owners Meeting and Greeting

David Cleaver at a recent Tribeca Meet and Greet, this one at the Manhattan Borough President's office. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

May. 14, 2016

David Cleaver has never lived in Tribeca (his home is a tiny apartment on West 46th Street), dined in any of its famed restaurants ("I can't afford them," he cheerfully admits), and has never owned a business.

But for all that, this unassuming man who works part-time as sales manager for the Tribeca Performing Arts Center cares deeply about Tribeca businesses. Almost every month for the past 10 years, Cleaver, 62, has brought together restaurateurs, dentists, clothing store retailers and dozens of other Tribeca business owners for a few hours of networking and shmoozing. His "Meet and Greets," as he calls them ("For years, I resisted giving them a name"), have no agenda and he steadfastly "bans anyone trying to take over and give boring speeches."

Many come because his emails are so irrepressible. ("We expect to have a friendly group and a terrific’s high time to catch up... just come to shake hands... bring your business cards, menus, flyers!")

Others show up just because of Cleaver himself.

"David is such a sincere person who wants to connect people in the neighborhood," said Suellen Epstein, who owns Children's Tumbling. "I really appreciate that he organizes this."

"I'm not sure if business has expanded as a result, but I've met some very nice people," said Martin Gottlieb, co-owner of Tribeca Dental Center and a Meet and Greet regular. "And David is just the sweetest guy. If he invites me, I'll go."

There is always wine donated by Frankly Wines and something to eat courtesy of Max Delivery, both local businesses.

The idea for the gatherings, Cleaver said, began with the folding of Tribeca Organization, formed to help businesses after 9/11.  Cleaver, who had gotten to know many store owners while selling ads for the Tribeca Performing Arts Center's program, saw that many of them were still trying to find their way. "A lot of people had moved out and some of the businesses were trying to reinvent themselves."

"I was talking to someone," Cleaver recalled, and I said, 'What we need to do is get together once a month and have a drink!' And then a light bulb went off in my head, and I said, 'Wait, they've invented this wonderful thing called email.'"

The first meeting was held at a bar on Greenwich Street. Since then, he has prevailed upon dozens of other business owners to host the event.

"It's been this ever-moving open house, from one Tribeca business to another," Cleaver notes. "We've done it in a bookstore, schools, gyms, an art gallery, a theater and a pole dancing studio." (This month's meeting is at the rug store, Double Knot, 19 White St., on Tuesday May 24, 6:30 to 9 p.m.)

Cleaver is at a loss to explain why he took on this mission. He grew up in a Quaker family outside Philadelphia and concedes that his events are modeled after the Quaker meetings that he and his family attended. "Whoever wants to can show up and anyone can speak. It's very much a community meeting, a place where anyone can express themselves."

Instead of finishing college Cleaver started "hanging out" at a local theater, the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. "I wouldn't go away, so they finally gave me a job backstage."

He might still be in Pennsylvania were it not for the fact that Clive Barnes, then a theater critic for the New York Times, gave a rave review of a Playhouse show, “The Passion of Dracula.” "The producers said, 'We're going to New York!'" recalled Cleaver.

And soon afterwards, he packed up his belonging and followed, showing up at the Cherry Lane Theater where he lived for six months, sleeping on a dressing room cot.

For the next few decades, before being hired by Tribeca Performing Arts Center, Cleaver ran a theater book store, edited a theater weekly, organized book-related events. He also developed a consummate knowledge of musical theater. "David is one of the brightest people I have ever known on the history of musical theater," said theater columnist and book author Peter Filichia.

Along the way, Cleaver also developed a side passion: collecting recordings of vintage American and BBC radio drama programs. "If someone gave me a nice basement in a bar," he said, "I'd love to do some old-time radio recreations."

In the meantime, there is no end in sight for the Meet and Greets, Cleaver insists, as he dreams of throwing a party on the Tribeca Bridge over West Street ("There's a ton of space there!") or even better, at the elegant Tribeca Rooftop. (I'd have an enormous pot luck dinner!")

"It's a party! Come to my party I would say to people!"

And, of course, they would.