One of two Judaica stores in midtown Manhattan will be gone by the end of the month, a victim of the soft economy and stiff rents on a busy side street.
A Judaica shop has occupied Manhattan Judaica’s address at 62 W. 45th St. for nearly 13 years. Owner David Vesely, who bought the former Eichler’s shop about five years ago, believed tourists, office workers and the men who gathered in the store daily for afternoon prayers would generate enough demand to support the store.
Not anymore, said Vesely, who dates the dip in business from just after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, the venerable Wall Street investment bank whose failure triggered a period of economic turmoil that continues today.
“Things that were a necessity became a luxury,” Vesely said, gesturing at his discounted stock of books, candlesticks and keychains on Thursday as shoppers mingled with the black-hatted men who had just finished their mid-day prayer service.
“People are picking this place clean,” said Robert Hadi, a worker in the nearby Diamond District who said he favored the store’s afternoon minyan over others in the area because he liked to shop there as well. “I thought it was an institution,” he said. “Either the rents are too high, or people aren’t supporting it properly.”
Indeed, Vesely had been banking on strong demand from the 75 to 100 men who prayed in the store every day. He granted a special discount to “Manhattan Minyan Members” but only about 10 percent of them patronized the store to the extent he’d hoped they would, he said.
In the end, neither the convenience shoppers popping in to pick up a Havdalah candle on their lunch hour nor the Mincha crowd generated sufficient business to keep the store’s doors open, Vesely said.
Meanwhile, his rent keeps rising, driven up by competition mainly from restaurants and the prices of his products keep falling, driven down mainly by online rivals whose operating costs are much lower, as they often operate out of their living rooms.
“It’s very tough to pay ground-floor rents and compete with fast-food tenants,” said Robin Abrams, executive vice president at Lansco, a commercial real estate services firm that tracks Manhattan rents.
Now Manhattan, once home to dozens of Judaica stores on the Lower East Side alone, has only two: West Side Judaica on the Upper West Side and J. Levine Books & Judaica, about 15 blocks south of Manhattan Judaica, said Danny Levine, the fourth-generation owner of the latter business, which opened in 1920.
Vesely is considering his options. He might re-open in the suburbs, he said. He might stay open online, or he might sell the website. But he knows he’ll sell off his inventory, probably before the High Holy Days.
“I¹ve been in the red for two years,” he said. “I keep pumping money into the business and I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”