Neighbors: FiDi Families’ Denise Courter
As the founder and publisher of FiDi Families, Denise Courter knows a thing or two about kid-friendly activities in downtown New York. On the website, and via a newsletter and social media, Courter and her team share their local intel on new classes, schools, stores, family-friendly restaurants and kid-approved activities across Lower Manhattan.
A working mom of two kids, aged 8 and 10, Courter is a familiar face in the Seaport District and a devoted champion of all things downtown.
When did you move to Lower Manhattan?
I’m from San Diego and I moved to Tribeca in 2000. So, I’ve been here for almost 20 years and have been able to witness Lower Manhattan’s transformation through its ups and downs over the years. I’ve lived in the Financial District for about 13 years now. When we first moved down here, it was after 9/11 and there was still a lot of hesitancy about buying a place downtown. What did that mean? What did your risk look like? Did you have your kids? But at that time, the price per square foot in Lower Manhattan was a lot more affordable than other parts of the city.
How have you seen the area evolve?
When we first moved down here, everything was covered by scaffolding. There were less businesses, certainly less amenities. You could not find many restaurants open. So, it’s beenneat to watch downtown change. We have amazing amenities now—any service you would ever want, whether it’s a barber or hairstylist, spas, grocery stores. There are so many choices now. Lower Manhattan is like all of New York—it’s a city that continually reinvents itself. And downtown has done a great job of that after Hurricane Sandy.
Did you ever think of leaving the neighborhood after Sandy?
Oh, no. Even after 9/11, I was working down here with Cantor Fitzgerald trying to rebuild. Being a part of that wave of people who came downtown to put stakes in the ground—who wanted to help make this a great neighborhood—was really important to us. I can’t imagine not living here at this point. It’s very much in my blood.
What made you want to start the FiDi Families website?
I’ve had the site since 2012. At that time, there were blogs but they were all stories about parenting or products. That’s not what I was looking for.I wanted to find out where I could take my kids that was safe and affordable. Or find things my nanny could do with the kids.
When I started doing research, I realized there was so much happening south of 14th Street that was free, or open for a nominal fee. There were amenities at our library. There were toddler programs, playtime at Battery Park…
All of a sudden, I realized there was this community of parents down here. We were all learning together about raising kids downtown. One night a group of us were out and someone said, ‘Can you send me all those things that you were talking about, so my kids can go, too?’ I started an Excel sheet that I shared and then it started getting bigger and bigger until someone said, ‘Why don’t you just put it up on a website?” So, that’s what I did—and it then it morphed very quickly, because once it was up, I wanted it to look good and make sure it had updated content. Flash forward to 2019 and I still say it’s a work in progress. The online world is always changing. Instagram wasn’t a thing when we started and now it’s one of our main platforms. We also do events, collaborations and partnerships.
What’s the best thing about raising a family downtown?
We’re lucky that we call New York City home. That’s something I try to get across to my kids daily. I tell them there are people who save all of their money to come to New York for one week to experience all of its glory. And you guys get to see the Statue of Liberty every day if you want. You’re by the water every single day. You can see the Brooklyn Bridge. We have so many things at our fingertips.
We also have a lot of that history down here that’s great for kids. They’ve had studies at school about the Indians that inhabited this space, and the Dutch settlers that came in. The cobblestones they’re walking on are more than a hundred years old. They hear about the fishermen who used to hang out at the Paris Café. There are walking tours, like the ones with Black Gotham Experience. There’s so much to do that celebrates the various cultures that helped create what Lower Manhattan is all about.
What are some things your kids like to do in the neighborhood?
They like to be outdoors. The ice-skating rink at Pier 17 was amazing. My kids did not know how to ice skate in December and they were doing amazing tricks like you would not believe by the time Winterland closed for the season. We were going three to five times a week. They were getting some fitness and fresh air; they were making new friends on the ice. I could bring my computer and do some work inside and everyone was happy. All the parents there with kids in tow mastered the art of miming through the window so you knew if your kid wanted water or hot chocolate, or a new set of gloves because their gloves were all wet. It was really fun.
What about in the summer?
My kids have been going to the Seaport since they were in strollers. They’re still out there pretty regularly, whether it’s kicking a soccer ball on Peck Slip or just walking around. The Seaport restaurants really embrace families. Imagination Playground is there; it’s a great asset to the community. Bikes have become a big thing for downtown kids, and scooters are an easy way to navigate the neighborhood. You can spend the entire day at the Seaport, especially when you go to an event—you grab dessert afterwards, or stay for dinner and you always run into friends. That connection and the continuation of our day is incredible.
For more kid-friendly fun downtown, follow @FiDiFamilies on Instagram and Twitter, check out Facebook.com/FiDiFamilies, and subscribe to the newsletter at FiDiFamilies.com. Stay tuned for more of Denise’s family-friendly downtown picks on the blog soon.
Photos by: Raquel Salazar Photography
Ship photo: Richard Bowditch