Walk into any Home Depot, and youíll find ordinary, non-contractor types loading up on tools and materials for do-it-yourself projects.
But when it comes to sukkahs, the trend is just the opposite. The stock and trade these days is in simple products that can be assembled in a matter of minutes.
"People don’t want to build by themselves anymore," says Sukkah Depot’s Nir Weiss, an Israeli who comes to New York each fall to ply the sukkah trade. "With the new designs, there are no tools, no screws. Just pieces that connect."
Trucks were moving out of Weissí warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so often on the Friday before Yom Kippur that PT Barnum might have remarked that there’s a sukkah sold every minute.
This year’s bestseller is the New Panels Sukkah. Why New Panels?
"Because it’s new," Weiss, 35, explains between phone calls in his office.
A resident of Elkana, a settlement near Ariel in Samaria, Weiss supplies 14 stores in Jewish areas. An engineer during the off-season, he expects to sell "a few thousand" sukkahs this year, at anywhere from $200 for a folding "travel sukkah" to over $1,000 for the deluxe panels model. Sold separately are the síchach, mats of organic material used for the roof, from about $29 and up, although shoppers have been known to negotiate package deals.
As with most holidays, sukkah shopping tends to be last minute.
"I once sold a sukkah at 5 o’clock on erev Sukkot," an hour before the festival began, says Coby Sonnenfeld, who runs a competing business in Midwood.
Often, travel plans are in flux, or families discover that their old sukkah components are not in the same condition in which they went into the garage last year. Nasty weather close to the holiday can also boost sales if completed sukkahs need to be repaired or replaced. "Last year was a busy year," says Sonnenfeld. "There was a lot of wind."
Shalom Lain, a salesman at the Sukkah Depot Williamsburg showroom, says that even close to the holiday shoppers take their time making a selection.
"They come in during the last two weeks and they have to consult with their wives or their children," says Lain, a yeshiva student. "They stand on the table and shake it one way and shake it another way and give it all kinds of tests."
The showroom includes the panels sukkah with sliding windows as well as what he calls a "Lego sukkah" made of 2-foot interlocking panels, which can be assembled in any configuration (but is not made by the toy company). The travel sukkah comes in 4-by-4-foot or 6-by-6-foot sizes, and pops up in five minutes. "It’s great for picnics or amusement park parking lots," says Lain.
Other innovations include crank-driven, metal awning that fits atop the s’chach in case of rain, and even a plumbing-free sukkah sink, for easy ritual washing, that hooks up to a garden hose.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, business was moderate at Sonnenfeldís in Midwood, Brooklyn. But Coby Sonnenfeld, 29, expected a boost Sunday night, after the fast. "There is an inyan [practice] to build the sukkah right after Yom Kippur," to begin the new year with the performance of a mitzvah.
The Sonnenfeld showroom features an EZ Lock Sukkah, a small two-person model suitable for a private, romantic meal, and the classic pine wood structure that bolts together. While the panel sukkahs were selling out, "I haven’t sold one wood sukkah this year," says Sonnenfeld, pointing at the neglected model. "To me, this is a sukkah."
At Sukkah Depot’s Midwood retail outlet, Esther Feder popped in last Friday with her son, Josh, and daughter, Ruth, looking for a bargain.
"We had a sukkah, but we left it behind when we moved," says Feder, a residence manager for the Hebrew Academy for Special Children who lives in Midwood. Feder bought a 6-by-8-foot EZ Lock with blue and white fabric, for under $400, s’chach included.
"I like the fabric and color and itís easy to put together," says Feder as her son handed over his MasterCard. But although the sukkah could be assembled in less time than it took to buy, Feder seems to suggest that something larger might be given up for the convenience. She recalled the days of her youth in Russia when she and her family would routinely build their sukkah from scratch.
"It was fun," she says with a smile.