Lisa Umansky was sworn in as the new president of the Rockville Centre Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 26, at a meeting at MacArthur Park. Umansky, owner of the Polka Dot Pound Cake bakery, on Long Beach Road, succeeds Brian Croutier, who was president since 2019.
Nine years after she joined the chamber, Umansky said she was ready to lead it during the continuing pandemic, which has presented many challenges to local businesses.
Among the things she is most excited about, Umansky said, are the local events the chamber takes part in, including Playing on the Porch, which features local musicians, and the Snowman Hunt, which involves many of the village’s small businesses.
“It’s fun to get outside of your own business and be a part of creating other fun activities for the community as a whole,” Umansky said. “It’s how you give a big town a small-town feel.”
She said she wanted to prioritize making every new business feel like a part of the community as quickly as possible.
Umansky credited Croutier with rallying businesses and helping them adapt by adding things like curbside pickup and obtaining personal protective equipment at the height of the pandemic. He helped guide the chamber through one of the most chaotic periods in recent memory, as businesses tried to adapt to regulations necessitated by the spread of Covid-19. That the village weathered the storm over his three years was evidenced by the number of ribbon cuttings for new businesses.
Croutier, a senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, said he was excited to see Umansky take the chamber’s helm. “I think it’s really important that she has a brick-and-mortar small business, so she’ll have her finger on the pulse of what many business owners go through,” Croutier said. “It will be very good for the businesses and the chamber to have her steering the ship right now.”
Umansky has made her interests into a career. She grew up in Hewlett, and in 1977, when she was 15, she worked as an instructor at a dance academy in Cedarhurst, “teaching the Five Towns how to do the hustle,” she said. In 1985, at 22, after graduating from Adelphi University in Garden City with a degree in business administration and management, expecting to someday work in finance, she founded the Broadway Dance Academy in Hewlett, serving as owner, director and instructor until 1997.
“It was the dancing school that really taught me how to run a business,” Umansky recalled. “That was definitely a learning experience for me, and when I learned I loved being an entrepreneur.”
After moving to Rockville Centre in 1993, she spent the early 2000s at home, raising two daughters, but sought another creative pursuit in baking. Inspired by her mother and her Norwegian heritage, Umansky has been baking her entire life, and sold her baked goods at farmers markets across Long Island from 2008 to 2012. Little by little, it became more than a side business, and she managed to get the storefront on Long Beach Road just after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The location is extremely important to Umansky, who learned from her experience of having a dance academy just down the street from Hewlett Elementary School.
“So many of my students would just walk straight from school to the dancing school,” she said. “So I knew having a location in a residential area and with foot traffic was the way to go.”