Family Connections

By Mark Fischetti

Nepotism is basic to family business. We found one of its more exotic manifestations in an old Manhattan dance hall. The philosophy there: If you run a cash business, your daughter may be your most trusted employee. Or your father. Or your ex-wife. Or ... well ... you get the point.

"GOOD EVENING. Welcome to Roseland. Jaime Hernandez over there at the bar can make you a drink. Have a song request? Ask Ruben Hernandez, our deejay. Noella Hernandez can find you a snack. And if you'd like to learn the lambada, Mike Hernandez, our retired assistant general manager, can show you. Excuse me a moment; my brother's got a question in the front office. Enjoy..."

Siblings Hilary and Larry Ginsberg run Roseland, Manhattan's famous ballroom. Since Dad's real estate business footed the $3.5 million bill for the place 10 years ago, they've spent a million dollars renovating the 70-year-old music and dance landmark. Just down Broadway from Radio City Music Hall, Roseland is now a vast, flexible, art-deco cavern that can hold 3,450, and brings in top contemporary acts — and more than $3 million a year.

But Hilary and Larry don't want to change history. They want to preserve it. Roseland's greatest asset is its image as New York City's center of big entertainment, since it opened on New Year's Eve 1919. Intact is the "Wall of Fame," which displays the dance shoes of such greats as Eleanor Powell, Betty Grable, Gregory Hines, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Near the foyer, an engraved plaque dating back to World War I lists the names of 550 couples who met on the dance floor and later married.

The Ginsbergs have tried as well to preserve the nepotism that dances rampant through their staff. Twenty-one of their 60 permanent employees are related. There are seven families that boast long-time employment there. And several, like the Hernandezes, have many family members working at Roseland. On a given night, for example, you might think you're seeing quadruple, seemingly running into members of the Guerrero family at every turn — the coat check, the in-house deli, the cash register, the coat return. And so it goes.

It's not just that the Ginsbergs have been kind. When they took over the dowdy dance hall, they inherited a peculiar staff. "People who work in the nightclub business are part of a subculture," Hilary explains. "They work odd hours, in the middle of the night. They never see their families. So over the years they've hired their own family members, so they can be around them more."

The Ginsbergs have also promoted family hiring for functional reasons. "This is a dangerous business," Hilary says. "Everyone is handling cash. The place is huge, it's dark, it's open all night long. We can't possibly keep track of what goes on during an event. So we encourage our employees to hire family members, because they can be trusted more."

What about conspiracy? "Well, we're not that naive," Hilary says. "We hire spotters from time to time. But mostly we try to create an atmosphere of guarded trust that encourages loyalty and mutual respect. Through our actions we try to say, 'You treat us right and we'll treat you right.'"

"... HI, I'M BACK. Hope you're ready to dance. Don Glaser, our orchestra leader, has worked out some new numbers with singer Lois Costello, his ex-wife. Just step forward, step back, aaand turn..."

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September 1990

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