Rosetta Garries, MD, and her thriving practice have brought new life to 135th Street in Harlem
By the proprietor’s own admission, Le Pavillon Garries is not at all what one expects.
For starters, the 1,000-square-foot facility looks nothing like the aesthetic skin surgery center it’s billed as. With its elegant carved African mahogany front doors imported from Paris, working fireplace, raised ceilings, crystal chandelier, brick and marble inlays, English wrought-iron accents, flowering plants, and antique furnishings galore, Le Pavillon resembles a country cottage more than a surgery center.
There’s also its unexpected location—Harlem, in New York City, a community that many reflexively (and quite incorrectly) associate with grinding poverty and urban decay. Given that it’s in Harlem, yet another surprise is the patient mix, which includes plenty of Americans of African descent but just as many whites, Latinos, and other ethnicities, not to mention nationalities. Le Pavillon caters to people from almost every continent on the planet.
But, then again, the unexpected is what one comes to expect from Rosetta Garries, MD, who runs this vibrant office.
Garries, a Long Island, NY, native, opened Le Pavillon in 2001, not long after she and her investment banker husband bought a home in Harlem, which was by then in the midst of rapid gentrification.
“At the time, Harlem was undergoing a large influx of high-income, sophisticated people,” Garries recounts. “I discovered that there were many people here who wanted and could afford plastic surgery services, yet didn’t want to have to leave our village for those services. Sadly, there weren’t any aesthetic surgery centers located in this area. This was an unserved market, and I knew I could have a really successful practice in it for that very reason.
“My idea was to bring Manhattan’s Madison Avenue of the Gilded Age to Harlem by establishing a high-end, luxurious facility offering the most in-demand minor, primarily noninvasive aesthetic surgery services.”
Doing so has proven to be an excellent strategy, and it has rewarded Garries with enviable growth.
A Community Makeover
It helps that Le Pavillon Garries possesses a prestigious address in Harlem. The location is along the main thoroughfare, 135th Street, also known as Strivers Row.
(The name Strivers Row was coined more than a century ago in recognition of the type of individual that once dominated the street. Here, long before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, lived upwardly mobile African-Americans: physicians, lawyers, judges, engineers, and scientists—people who were denied equality of opportunity yet nonetheless strived for, and frequently achieved, wealth and positions of stature.)
Heavily traveled 135th Street was ideal for Le Pavillon in every way save one: It was an eyesore. In plastic surgery terms, Garries’ block was badly in need of an extreme makeover.
“My section of Harlem at the time was blighted but beginning to transform into the fashionable, upscale neighborhood it is today,” she says.
Garries certainly did her part to promote that transformation (technically, a retransformation, because Harlem 100 years ago was a glittering jewel of a community, graced with many stately homes and commercial buildings, a lively social scene, and an abundance of amenities). With a hammer in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, Garries toiled hard to renovate the exterior of her own leased space before she turned her attention to cleaning up the rest of her side of the street.
“I brought in construction and landscaping materials by the truckload,” says Garries, who, with her trademark blonde locks set against ebony skin, became a familiar face at local home-improvement stores for the better part of the year it took her to complete the work.
Among the improvements she ushered in along the block were a bus shelter and a community bulletin board; the latter was exceptionally popular with residents and merchants alike.
“The bulletin board has become a real focal point that brings people together by keeping everyone informed of what’s going on in the neighborhood, be it a kitten that’s been lost, or the boutique across the street that is having a discount sale, or the co-op vegetable farmers who are planning a visit,” she says.
Garries accomplished all of this with her own money.
“I could have gone to the city’s redevelopment agency for funding, but I didn’t because I didn’t have time for the bureaucratic process,” she explains.
Some cosmetic fixes to the neighborhood were easier than others. A wrenching but necessary one involved transients encamped on the sidewalk.
“They were making life unpleasant for everybody, so I arranged to have them relocated to the various relief shelters for the homeless,” she says. “It took some time, but eventually the transients stopped habituating this area.”
Initially, Garries tackled the daunting job of street revitalization by herself. Later, as the work progressed and the results began to develop, business owners up and down the block joined in and made their own contributions.
“Once you initiate positive change,” she says, “people want it and they help you; they galvanize behind you. And that’s exactly what this community did.”
(Her neighbors, by the way, include a taxi company, whose services Garries routinely uses to shuttle out-of-area patients from airports and hotels to her facility.)
“Everyone saw what I was doing, and it was appreciated. I know it was appreciated because they made sure I had a lot of patients beginning the very day I opened my door. And I’ve been busy ever since.”
The Garries-led neighborhood facelift garnered attention throughout New York and into New Jersey and Pennsylvania when a local television station’s news team aired a story about it. The geographically widespread goodwill it engendered brought still more patients to Le Pavillon Garries.
Meanwhile, Garries’ name ricochets around the globe via the Internet: Her husband owns a high-traffic global web portal (www.newyork.com) that features and links to Le Pavillon.
Globe-Trotting to Harlem
Today’s Harlem (and not just 135th Street) attracts tourists by the droves from all over the world. Many come because they want to see the birthplace of modern American jazz. Others come because they want to marvel at the historic Ecclesiastic style of architecture. Still others come simply because it’s such a hip, happening, Big Apple kind of place.
Whatever their motivation, it’s patently advantageous for Garries because it ensures that multitudes of people stroll or ride past the front doors of Le Pavillon daily. As they espy her place, quite a few become so intrigued by the chicness of the building that they stop in to take a peek around. When they leave, it’s usually with an ap-pointment card in hand, a date having been set to see Garries for an aesthetic procedure.
Most people who use Garries’ services are so satisfied that they enthusiastically refer friends and relatives to her. One of Garries’ neighbors that has been a particularly rich vein of such referrals is the local police station.
The relationship be-gan after a couple of officers walking their beat poked their heads inside to say hello. One thing led to another and, in short order, the officers became patients.
Subsequently delighted by the surgical results she delivered for them, the pair volunteered to post Garries’ brochure in their locker room back at the station. Before long, enough of New York’s Finest were congregating at Le Pavillon that Garries could have almost formed a police department of her own.
Garries’ intention was to provide aesthetic plastic surgery services to a clientele that she thought would be overwhelmingly black, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Only about half of her patients are Americans of African descent or relatively recent newcomers from that continent. The rest are white, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, you name it.
“I started out thinking mine would be a practice catering to all people of color, but instead it’s turned out that I’m catering to people of all colors,” she quips.
An intriguing footnote to the Garries story is that, despite a bent for science throughout her school years, she originally planned to pursue a career as a professional artist. She felt it would be the best way to fulfill a passion she developed early in life with the help of her artist mother. Indeed, she completed college (Long Island University, Brooklyn, class of 1979) with a degree in fine arts.
It seemed for a time that a garret in Greenwich Village and gallery exhibitions in SoHo were in her future. That is, until her father convinced her to aim higher.
“He warned me that I would never have a significant income as a starving artist,” Garries remembers, fondly.
Fortunately, Garries as an undergraduate had taken enough science courses to satisfy the requirements for admission to the State University of New York’s Downstate College of Medicine, from which she received her MD degree in 1984. Afterward, she was a general surgery resident at Brookdale hospital in Brooklyn.
During medical school, Garries decided to become a plastic surgeon.
“I found much to like about the specialty,” she says. “The patient population was wonderful because no one was ill. The relationship between patient and doctor was one that allowed for a lot of nurturing and bonding. And, as a plastic surgeon, I’d have the ability to make a significant impact on the life of my patients—helping them look better so that they can get a better job and make more money, or so that they can form better relationships because they feel better about themselves.”
Moreover, she became convinced that plastic surgery was particularly well-suited to the needs of a female physician.
“Because you’re not for the most part dealing with trauma and forced to practically live in the OR, you can have flexible work hours that give you the freedom to raise a family or pursue other outside interests,” she says. Above all, she discovered that plastic surgery was an extremely pleasurable occupation.
“That’s what sold me on it the most—the idea that I could come into the office every day and the work wouldn’t seem like work at all because it would be so enjoyable,” she says.
Fellowship-trained Garries’ preparation for practice included programs conducted at St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center (New York), Eastern Virginia Medical School (Norfolk), and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital (New York). After completing the fellowships, she spent a decade in a group practice setting, mainly assisting the other plastic surgeons with their surgical procedures, but also providing emergency-department coverage at a nearby hospital.
From there, Garries launched Le Pavillon as a solo practice, which it remains to this day. Only minor procedures are performed on-site; they include nonsurgical skin tightening, chemical peels, lip augmentation, antiaging treatments, electrolysis, microdermabrasion, permanent makeup, tattoo removal, skin bleaching, stretch-mark treatment, hair restoration, botulinum toxin Type A injections, wrinkle removal, aesthetic laser surgery, facial rejuvenation, earlobe repair, mole removal, spider vein removal, acute razor bump treatment, and a host of other services.
Meeting the Need
Historically, African-Ameri-cans have not been big consumers of aesthetic plastic surgery services. However, by bringing those services to Harlem, Garries is changing that.
“How a person looks is more and more important these days; the community here in Harlem understands that,” says Garries. “So the challenge is to be able to meet the needs and yet make sure it’s affordable for all socioeconomic groups.”
A common problem for African-American women is uneven skin tone.
“Black skin can endure a lot of tensile trauma, but not a lot of chemical trauma,” says Garries. “Unless you properly prepare black skin, the application of a chemical peel will cause hypopigmentation.”
Interestingly, documenting the work she does with people of color is a challenge in and of itself for Garries. The main problem is that it’s difficult to accurately capture in photographs subtle changes to darker skin. For that reason, Garries doesn’t attempt to produce her own before-and-after shots; instead, she sends patients to a nearby professional photographer who has the skills to properly illuminate melanin-rich skin and generate an optimally exposed image.
“The cost of having the professional photographer take the pictures is built into my fee,” she says.
Garries believes a challenge that practitioners in all parts of the country will eventually face is being adequately trained and equipped to work on skin of diverse ethnic groups and on patients who have other health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
“The world is flattening. People from different races and cultures are intermarrying much more often now. They’re producing children with a blend of skin tones and qualities—and problems—unlike what most aesthetic plastic surgeons are accustomed to seeing. Consequently, market demands are going to be such that plastic surgeons far and wide are going to have to know how to address all skin types, not just a familiar few,” she says.
Busy as she is, Garries manages to make time for clinical research. She is currently gearing up to study the utility of microdermabrasion as a tool to improve atrophic scars, wide scars, and other types of scars in all skin types. In addition, she wants to explore various applications of nonsurgical skin tightening as a noninvasive way to rejuvenate facial skin in patients of color who also have risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Garries conducts her research at Le Pavillon. However, she’s beginning to run short of room because of her brisk clinical business. Garries owns a building nearby; it’s spacious enough that she could relocate and instantly solve the problem of working in cramped quarters. However, Garries isn’t eager to move because she loves the spot she’s in now. So the plan is to lease the storefront adjacent to hers, knock out a few walls, and connect the neighboring space to form a larger Le Pavillon Garries.
Garries is also toying with the possibility of opening an office on the West Coast, or maybe in the Caribbean, on the European continent, or in Japan—places from which she’s been drawing patients.
No matter what steps she next takes, Garries insists she’ll continue to show up for work in Harlem with a smile on her face.
Says Garries, “I’m having the most fun ever. I love my practice. And best of all, the community supports me. Mine may be a boutique operation, but it provides the quality aesthetic surgery services this community expects. When you get right down to it, measuring up to community expectations is what determines your success.”
Rich Smith is a contributing writer for Plastic Surgery Products.