In the last couple of years, we’ve been following the plight of Israel Wholesale Imports, at 23 Essex Street. Heidi Yousef has run the Judaica store for the past 15 years, but last month she finally made the decision to call it quits. Not so fast. Michael Bolla, the real estate developer behind the Madison Jackson building, is coming to the rescue.
In the Jewish Daily Forward, Bolla, an observant Jew, explains why he felt compelled to step in: “I was literally walking by the store and I saw this woman standing [outside] with these old candlesticks… and I said, ‘Darling, what are you doing?’ She said, ‘I have no customers.’ And I said, ‘You are not going to get them like this, darling.”
Reporter Paul Berger added:
In an April 3 telephone call, Bolla pledged to cover Yousef’s rent over the coming months, but he was vague about what the future would look like for Israel Judaica. Yousef’s stock would have to improve, he said: “We have to give her a concept. We’ve got to get her moving.”
Yesterday, in The Jewish Week, Bolla shared more details about what he has in mind:
…he arranged financing (including some of his own funds) that gave the store another month of life. And he started to outline a plan that would convert Israel Judaica, which carries a limited stock of decades-old kipot and posters and similar assorted items, into what he calls “the Judaica store of the future,” a savvy enterprise with a high-visibility Internet presence and work-study students from nearby New York University.
Bolla, managing partner at Douglas Elliman, has obviously concluded that marketing the Madison Jackson to Orthodox Jews is smart business. Following last week’s big feature in the New York Times, he says, there’s been interest in the project from all over the world. But Bolla is definitely taking an interest in neighborhood preservation well beyond the converted school house at 371 Madison (these efforts are rooted in personal as well as professional interests). In the days ahead, you can expect to hear more from him about other Lower East Side landmarks. Stay tuned.