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New York…The announcement by the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. Inc. (A&P) that it was closing 25 of its stores in New York and several other states next month was greeted by leaders of the kosher food industry as a “blow” but far from a disaster. Many of the stores to be closed were considered “kosher” stops by the industry, but officials believe that the losses from sales to these stores will be made up either by other retailers who will “fill the space” or by nearby competitors. Although A&P did not confirm the locations, Kosher Today has learned that amongst the stores to be closed is the Pathmark in Monsey, once considered one of the nation’s leading kosher stores (see our inspiring story on Kevin O’Brien). Other stores with considerable sales of kosher that are said to be on the list are the Waldbaum’s in Garden City and Levittown, the Pathmark stores in Marlboro, Fort Lee, North Bergen, and North Brunswick, all in New Jersey. Kosher Today has been unable to confirm rumors that another major retail chain would move into the vacated space in Monsey. In fact, local real estate agents said that the space was extremely expensive and wondered whether any new store could compete with such huge kosher independent stores as Rockland Kosher that appear to have a lock on the local kosher business.
Kosher industry sources say that the big winner will be ShopRite, which happens to have stores near the majority of the A&P locations to be closed. Unlike A&P, Wakefern, the parent company of ShopRite and many of the owners of ShopRite brand stores have invested a considerable amount of resources in their kosher program. The sources believe that many of the ShopRite stores will attract customers from the defunct stores. Some industry leaders were particularly sad about the closing of the Waldbaum’s stores, which at one time was considered the leading brand store in the Jewish community. Said one Long Island distributor: “I used to associate the face of Julia Waldbaum with Rosh Hashanah as her photo was on ads in Jewish periodicals wishing the Jewish community a happy new year. I also use to have a Waldbaum’s Jewish calendar on my wall.”
By Menachem Lubinsky
With the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) only weeks away, the Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty was already publicizing an extensive list of distribution points for holiday food for the Jewish poor, which only seems to increase with the ongoing recession. A prominent Jewish community leader was concerned that increased prices for the holiday food would also wreak havoc for those with large families and others suffering from a job loss or simply from an inability to cope with such prices. I reached out to many retailers who assured me that despite being forced to pay higher wholesale prices, they would make every effort to “hold the line.” One bakery told me that he was paying much higher prices for wheat than he did a year ago as a result of the increase in commodity prices but “would pretty much keep his prices the same.”
Typically, I hear these concerns on the eve of Passover, but this year it is very telling that the concern is so strong on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. I suspect that retailers know the true state of many of their customers better than anyone. They are aware of customers whose fortunes have turned or may have had a life-changing event in their family life. It is a time of year where there is an increase in charitable giving, compassion and understanding, which would suggest that this would not be lost on the retailers.
Many in the kosher industry tell me that “wise shoppers” will find a host of special and reduced prices, albeit that it may take a bit of organization and travel to come up with a package of good pricing.
Woodmere LI…by Tova Ross…The Five Towns may be amongst the most affluent Jewish regions in the country, but it is also an area with an increasing number of Jewish families who are struggling, Kosher Today has learned. The Jewish Community Center of the Greater Five Towns has had a kosher food pantry for nearly five years (thanks to funding from the UJA-Federation of New York) to provide struggling residents of the Five Towns with pantry staples and canned foods. But it was only recently that increased demand for assistance has necessitated a move from the JCC’s basement to a larger storefront on Central Avenue in Woodmere. Rina Shkolnik, the JCC’s executive director, said: “Five years ago, we served fifty, maybe sixty families a week. Two years ago, we served eighty five families. Last year we served 135, and this year, 150. With an average of four members to a family, that’s already over 500 people that don’t have enough food to eat.”
Shkolnik attributes the rising number of people in need to the still-struggling economy. “Many of these families that are suffering already have kids in yeshiva and mortgages to pay, and when those costs are taken care of, it often doesn’t leave enough for kosher food,” she explained. Basics like milk and meat are more expensive when they’re kosher, and when one member of the family lost his or her job, finding the money for things that have already been committed to doesn’t leave a lot of room to buy kosher meat or other typically more expensive basic foods.
The new JCC storefront – which opened in part by donations from the JCC’s board of directors – operates differently from the basement food pantry, from which community members could not frequent and only receive donation from deliveries. In the storefront, perishables and canned goods are still collected from both private donations and from bins placed in local supermarkets like Gourmet Glatt, Brach’s, and Supersol that ask shoppers to buy an extra item to donate, but the food is then stocked on shelves for those in need to come and “buy” as they “shop.” And, unlike its previous location, this storefront is equipped with freezers used solely to stock meat, so families who cannot afford kosher beef and chicken can still enjoy it. The storefront’s windows have shades to protect the privacy of families who come to “shop” there. The space is leased for two years, but hopefully, it won’t need that long for community members to get back on their feet.