Thursday, April 23, 2009

73 Eldridge Street: Then And Now 2

I didn't know where the Eldridge Street picture from the previous post was originally. I did, however, notice the signs for the Levine and the Zeigelheim businesses. I also saw the 73 number address. I sort of suspected Eldridge Street because it was known as a block where religious items were sold. Googling some combination of Levine and 73 and religious articles lead me to the article below. An excerpt from levine judaica
The Sy Syms Of Judaica
Dan Levine, owner of J. Levine Books & Judaica, isn't just selling Jewish books and gift ware. He's selling Jewishness. Open to the first page of "Living Jewish: The Ultimate Judaica Buying Guide" and you'll see a photo of Dan Levine, the fourth-generation owner of J. Levine Co. Books & Judaica. Call the store, and you'll hear a recording of his voice directing callers. Visit the the two-story shop at 5 W. 30th St. and you'll see a blow-up of his image from the catalog almost life-size in the window. Go inside and you're likely to meet the real Dan Levine.
He's the Sy Syms of the Judaica business, the Frank Perdue of Jewish book selling. The 40-year-old draws these comparisons himself, and then adds "obviously, in a different way." But Levine isn't just selling Jewish books and gift ware -- he's selling Jewishness.
"We are advertising Judaism," he says, pointing to the nicely arranged displays in the store. He explains that he wants all who come inside to leave with a greater appreciation of the richness and beauty of Judaism. "We're here to make people feel happy to be Jewish."
With the publication of "Living Jewish: The Ultimate Judaica Buying Guide" ($10), he hopes to share his upbeat view of Jewish life with even more people than those who get to the store. Levine feels as though he's "opened 50,000 branches" of J. Levine Co., all over the worlds. The sleek 98-page paperback, which he worked on for two years is a "full-service Judaica store in a book" -- and 50,000 copies are newly in print.
For example, a consumer planning a bar or bat mitzvah might consult the catalog, and then order invitations, a copy of "Putting God on the Guest List" by Jeffrey Salkin, a set of tefillin, a Haftorah booklet and tape, yarmulkes, a tallit set, Torah pointer and more. The book's brightly-colored pages are filled with photographs of hundreds of books, including classical texts, how-to guides and Jewish History, ritual objects and accessories, toys, tapes and computer software. Organized into five sections -- "Being Jewish," "Celebrating Jewish," "Learning Jewish," "Multimedia Jewish" and "Institutional Jewish" -- the book is a sleek Sear's Catalog of Judaica.
Levine sees the Buying Guide as a book "that can make a difference in the world, helping Judaism to grow, helping people to learn more about Judaism." Available for free to rabbis, the book is sold in the store and through mail order. He hopes to get some of the major book chains to carry it too.
Originally, Levine was approached by a trade publisher who wanted him to prepare a "Whole Judaica Catalog" modeled after the popular "Whole Earth Catalog." As he began formulating ideas for that book, he realized that he'd rather do his own version. Having a comprehensive J. Levine Co. catalog has been part of his dream of promoting the business' growth.
Under Levine's leadership, the business moved to Midtown from its original headquarters on the Lower East Side. In 1890, his great-grandfather, a Torah scribe, founded the firm, selling Torahs and other religious objects in Vilkameer, Lithuania. In 1905, the Torah scribe moved the business to New York. Levine's grand-father expanded the business to included the manufacture of embroidered religious objects, like synagogue ark covers, and the sale of books -- although at the time, there were probably one or two editions of the prayer books, rather than the more than twenty versions in the Buying Guide.
Levine's father and his two brothers, who grew up living above the store on Norfolk Street, entered the business after World War II. In 1962, they moved the business to a seven-story building on Eldridge Street, near the corner of Hester Street. "It was like a department store," Levine explains, with books on one floor and manufacturing on another. Though he admits that aesthetics in store design "was not the order of the day," he remembers visiting the store as a young child and breaking his arm when he tripped in cluttered space.

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