Flood Of Support Keeps West Side Judaica In Business, For Now: ‘People Came In Crying’

By Andrea Peirce

Thanks to an outpouring of support and sales, West Side Judaica owner Yaakov Saltzer told us that he no longer plans to close the landmark store any time soon.

Just a few weeks ago, it looked like high rent and sagging sales due to online competition would spell lights out for the specialty store on Broadway between 88th and 89th street. The retailer has sold books and Judaica such menorahs, mezuzahs, and yarmulkes since the mid-1930s.

But West Side Rag’s report of an imminent closing , and subsequent reports in Jewish publications, jolted the community to action.

“People came in crying, saying we are not letting you go,” recounted Saltzer. They were full of ideas about what we could do to survive, he said. Move to a smaller store with lower rent, some suggested. Or start selling items in part of a synagogue space.

“The community — they literally begged us to give them a chance,” he said. Then synagogues put out the word that members needed to step up and buy locally instead of online.

Today, sales are up by 10 to 15 percent, and prospects for survival look rosier.

“Hopefully now, people know what it means for us, a local store–how important it is to buy from us,” Saltzer said. The benefits of having a local source for specialty items includes satisfying immediate needs, he pointed out. A family visiting from Florida the previous week was able to come into the store at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon, for example, and purchase the hot plate they needed for Shabbat dinner that night.

The flood of concern and support from the community has meant a lot to him, Saltzer said. “It gives me a very warm feeling, a very good feeling.”

“But the bottom line is, feeling bad [about the store closing] doesn’t help,” he said. “What helps is… sales!”

Photos by Andrea Peirce.

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 32 comments | permalink
    1. Deep Thought says:

      Huge Mazel. Well done to the community for keeping this store open

    2. Wendy says:

      Oi vay ! Mazel tov, on behalf of my Jewish bloodline, also; & , how lovlier some of UWS used to be @ 1956. Protect Israel. Happy High Holy Days.

    3. Jean says:

      I remember the store BEFORE they moved a bit up the block. I bought a usual soldier menorah there over 40 years ago for my brother and his wife. They still have it.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Jean, there is a soldier menorah on permanent display at the Jewish Museum of New York. It was made in the 1950’s in Israel “green metal”. In nice condition it’s worth $200.

    4. Paul, Chicago says:

      Glad to know they are staying open and will buy a new menorah there (if they have online sales) as I’m no longer living in NYC. However, bought a tallis there several years ago and the customer service was just short of outright rude. If you pride yourself on being a local business that provides the human touch, be a bit more receptive to those that may not be Orthodox.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Gotta say Paul, that does not match my experience. Not only do I not wear a yarmulke, I am frequently mistaken for Gentile, and I’ve always been treated nicely here. Not overly-friendly as you would find from the hipster guy/gal at Barnes and Nobles, but polite and helpful when needed.

        • UWS-er says:

          UWSHebrew is mistaken for gentile??? 😉

          • UWSHebrew says:

            I’m 6 feet tall, very broad shouldered, blue eyes, and small nose (no “hook” to speak of — I’ve even been accused of having a nose job!). I get mistaken for Irish and German, and when I take the F train to Sheepshead Bay, old Polish and Ukrainian women with huge crosses around their necks start talking to me in their native tongue, thinking I am one of them.

            • OriginalMark says:

              You sound like a hunk. Too bad you’re so terrified of everything…

            • GG says:

              What is this?? J-Date??:)

            • Independent says:

              This reminds me of the joke about the elderly Jewess who persists in asking the man sitting next-to her on the bus whether he is Jewish. The man keeps answering ‘no’ but the old lady keeps asking him if he is sure, insisting that he looks distinctly Jewish to her. Finally, in order to just get the darn lady to leave him alone, the man capitulates and says, “Okay, fine, I’m Jewish. Are you happy now?!”.

              “That’s funny”, responds the lady. “You don’t look Jewish.”

      • coucha says:

        Or Ashkenazi

      • Bernie 613 says:

        I’ve been in the store any number of times. Never, ever saw anyone treated disrespectfully, man, woman, or child. That includes customers who, judging by the questions they ask the staff or by their attire, are most unlikely to be Orthodox.

    5. Ellen says:

      Happy to read of the increased support. I shopped there some decades ago when residing on the UWS. Read of financial troubles in WSR and returned to shop for new Siddur (lovely) when visiting NYC from Montreal, recently. Now on my ‘must visit and shop’ list for NYC trips and urge next generation to support as well. Shanah Tovah to all.

    6. GG says:

      Jews?!?! On the Upper West Side??! Who knew?:)

      Alright, now let’s all head over to Fine & Shapiro’s for some pastrami and some nice lean corned beef (don’t forget the half sour pickles). I have a bad feeling their days are numbered. The last real deli on the UWS and they just aren’t getting the traffic, from what I can tell.

      Also, try to support Broadway Farm on 85th and Broadway, please. This is a family owned small business that is so important to the neighborhood. They just did a big renovation and it looks great. Check it out and pick something up.

      • Juan says:

        If Broadway Farm wants my support they need to make their prices for basic items competitive – I live nearby and only usually go there if there is one item that we ran out of. I think I would miss it if it was gone (as the next closest alternative is Gristedes) but I am unwilling to regularly pay the huge markup vs. Fresh Direct, Fairway, etc.

      • EGF says:

        That’s because Fine & Shapiro prices are sky high and the food doesn’t justify it. I won’t be going back.

        • UWSHebrew says:

          I agree with you except for their pastrami, which is excellent — great combo of lean/fat and peppery), and is the best kosher pastrami in Manhattan, I think even better than 2nd avenue deli (Pastrami Queen is bland bland bland).

        • GG says:

          I wish I could disagree with this statement but the reality is that if I really want to eat deli, which I don’t do that often, I would go to the 2nd Ave Deli or Katz’s.

          It’s just the wishful thinking in me but you are probably right. If the food was better and more consistent and not so expensive they would probably be doing better. There is no way they are going to last after their current lease expires.

          Imagine that… The UWS without a deli!?! It’s a shanda.

      • Cat says:

        I look like Heidi Klum and go to Fine and Shapiro 2-3 times a week. They love me in there and I get the best service ever. Will do what I can to bring in more customers and keep them in business. Seriously, best matzo ball soup on the planet!

    7. UWSiderCindy says:

      I’m not the least bit religious although proud to be a Jew and I’m going to purchase something. Not sure what I will do with it but that’s not the point. Buy local whether it’s food, hardware or Yarmulkes! Jeff Bezos should not run the world!

    8. szg says:

      It is also a valuable venue for people who browse books that they may then buy on the net. They will miss the store and, knowing the circumstances, may be moved to make purchases at WWJ.

      The internet, especially Amazon, are killing local merchants and disrupting the fabric of neighborhoods and even society.

    9. 2 Handicap says:

      I hope those that cried their tears of gold continue to support sales to the increased tune of 10% to 15% a day or otherwise the can is just being kicked down the proverbial road.

    10. Cynthia says:

      So glad you can stay

    11. B.B. says:

      Told you so! And Mazel Tov!

      Said at the time that the owner wasn’t committed to closing and that if things changed he was “open” to changing is mind.

      Now let’s see if Mr. Saltzer can take all this new found goodwill and keep things going into future.

    12. UWCider says:

      Good news indeed. Shana Tova!

    13. Yael says:

      Yay! Mazel tov! Although I moved out of state, I go WSJ every time I return to NYC. So happy they will remain. Hoping they will sell some items online (pretty please?!) one day.

    14. Susan Addelston says:

      We’ve patronized the store for the decades that we’ve been within walking distance. This is precisely what Helen Rosenthal’s & Gale Brewer’s offices needs to be involved in – the survival of small business in the face of gouging rents.
      We shall make sure to contact both of them on your (our!) behalf..a wonderfully happy New Year’s gift. Others should do the same, not only come in to buy from you, but pass legislation to ensure survival. May you continue to prosper for many years to come.

    15. NotoriousG says:

      Maybe they should sell cronuts and appeal to a broader demographic.