Freda and the late Sol Rosenberg started selling Hebrew books in 1954, out of the family home on North Hutchinson Street in Logan, said Rosenberg, who was about 7 years old at the time. Over the years, the mom-and-pop business expanded into selling kosher wines, then gift items and a wide variety of general Judaica; other Rosenberg stores were opened in several Jewish neighborhoods.
As Jews began moving out to the suburbs, the Rosenbergs followed their clientele. The Old York Road store opened in the early 1970s, with the Logan store closing a few years later.
The Northeast Philadelphia branch of Rosenberg's closed about five years ago, reported Rosenberg, about the time the family opened a new store on the Main Line.
The location at 144 Montgomery Ave. in Bala Cynwyd will remain open, with items from the Jenkintown location (including toys, games, crafts, framed art, Tanachs and ritual items) joining the Main Line stock.
Even before the economic woes of the past few months, Ros-enberg said that his family was looking to close the store. While he acknowledged that "the economy is hitting everybody" — he said at least a dozen empty storefronts are in the general vicinity of his store, calling Jenkintown "a ghost town" — he suggested that competition from online Judaica sites has been cutting into the bottom line of retailers — and "you can't live on that."
The Wines Will Continue
Rosenberg did say that the store's variety of worldwide kosher wines, which made up much of their Jenkintown sales (since many local synagogues relied on their products to stock their gift shops) will continue, available via the Bala Cynwyd branch and also direct from their warehouse in Cheltenham.
Last Sunday, despite it only being one week until Chanukah, the store was fairly quiet, with only about 10 customers coming in during a five-hour span. The phone, too, only rang a few times.
"Business is not what it used to be," replied Rosenberg, who joined the family business in 1972. "All Judaica stores are not doing well."
But it was retail Judaica shops, he noted, like his, that offer "a big selection" to customers, whether it's someone coming in for something specific — such as a tallit, kipah or mezuzah — or a non-Jewish customer that needed a gift for a Bar Mitzvah.
With the start of Chanukah just days away, dozens of chanukiahs were on display throughout the store — from kid-oriented ones featuring butterflies or sports themes, to ornate ones made of brass, silver or ceramic. Also on display were chocolate gelt, small holiday trinkets and several kinds of dreidels, made of plastic, wood, fabric or ceramic. One long shelf held nothing but candles, in various colors and sizes.
"When people come in, we let them know we're closing," noted Lynn Brenner, a part-time sales employee who came to work there after she retired from the real estate business about five years ago.
"They treated me like family," said Brenner, who will be out of work when the store closes, as will a few other employees. "They're wonderful people."
Rosenberg himself will be going to work at the Bala Cynwyd store with other family members. "I'm sad, but what can you do?" he lamented. "It's the way it is."