The Lower East Side is losing another mainstay of its Jewish heritage.
“The people, they don’t come down here anymore,” Heidi Yousef says emphatically when asked why Israel Wholesale & Retail Judaica plans to close in the next few weeks. “We don’t have that many stores here; it’s not that interesting.”
The blocks of Essex just south of Grand Street used to be lined with judaica stores and other Jewish-owned businesses, but the passage of time and the changing of the Lower East Side’s population have steadily eroded their number. Zelig Blumenthal, another historic judaica store just down the block at 13 Essex, closed last summer, and this spring, has been converted into a bakery and coffee shop, Cafe Grumpy.
Yousef says her store’s lease has expired, and the rising rent and overhead are too much to bear under shrinking sales of tefillin, talisim, mezuzahs and bar and bat mitzvah sets. Last year, in an effort to draw a more diverse customer base, she added some household items such as pots and pans.
Yesterday, she waved her hand dismissively at a table of kitchen goods — sale-priced for clearance — and said that effort was a waste. But sales of menorahs, passover plates and personalized yarmulkes are not plentiful enough to sustain the retail store anymore, she said, despite the loyalty of many longtime customers.
Last week, a man came in to be outfitted for his wedding, and reminded Yousef that the last time he had seen her, it was to buy his bar mitzvah set.
The current plan is to continue filling orders online and by phone (212-228-1661). An exact closing date has not been set.
“Altogether, I don’t want to be here,” Yousef said yesterday. “Every day, I am losing money.”