J. Levine Books and Judaica: A Jewish space in a multi-cultural place.

There are countless stores and restaurants in the section of Manhattan known as Midtown. It is possibly the most trafficked part of the city, offering visitors such sights as Times Square, the Empire State Building, Broadway and more. In addition to the big sights, there are smaller ones as well. Local restaurants, high-end shopping, hotels; Midtown has it all. One of the many stores in this busy area is J. Levine Books and Judaica, a Jewish bookstore and shop. It’s unsurprising that there is a Jewish bookstore in the heart of Manhattan; as the first stop for many immigrants from across the ocean, it has become a bustling city full of international influences. Within a few blocks lie restaurants of various types of international cuisine, showing off the city’s reputation for good food. There are also many nearby hotels,  evidence of the more temporary population of the city.

Manhattan is a tourist city. People come from all over the world to see the sights, and end up experiencing a city that truly represents the American melting pot. It is a city that both embraces globalization and resists it. Though there are many global businesses (those in Time’s Square are a good example), there are also thousands of small, independent businesses in the city. It is a way for people who live in the city to make it feel more like their place, instead of a place that everybody has a part in. J. Levine Books and Judaica is a single store, run by the same family for generations. They have carved out a space for themselves and have flourished, possibly because the Jewish religion hasn’t been extremely commercialized.

New York is a highly Jewish city in general, with the Manhattan being 29.2% Jewish, the second highest religion in that part of the city after Catholic. So it’s not surprising at all that there would be so many specifically Jewish businesses in the area. It is easy to imagine a Jewish tourist in the city visiting not only the many typical tourist sights nearby such as Time’s Square and the Empire State Building, but also having a bite to eat at a kosher deli, stopping in to buy a few Jewish books and staying the night in a nice nearby hotel.

Though I keep calling J. Levine’s a bookstore, it is so much more than that. The bookstore broadens its audience by not being limited to just books, and instead selling a variety of Jewish items (Judaica). This means that people may come into the store to buy some decorations and end up buying a few books as well.  With high quality, an extensive range of products, and a moderate price range, the store can cater to a wide variety of people. Yelp reviews praise the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff and the welcoming feel they give to the store. In a city such a New York, stereotyped as being full of rude people, this is a nice contrast. It is the kind of store in which even a non-Jewish person would be welcomed.

A map of the many neighborhoods in Manhattan. Notice how many of them overlap with each other, or seem to be neighborhoods within neighborhoods.

Even a brief look at the ‘List of Manhattan neighborhoods’ page on Wikipedia will reveal that the neighborhoods overlap, sometimes significantly. This shows the constantly growing and shifting nature of the city. As the population grows, people of like minds tend to draw together, forming communities within communities within communities. This may be hard to see from the outside, as Manhattan is such a tourist city, but to those who live in the city, these neighborhoods can reveal a lot about who lives where and where to find certain types of businesses.

A “place”, as mentioned in Tim Cresswell’s “Place”, is a meaningful location which people have placed value on. This value includes what people say about it, what they feel about it, how it is represented architecturally, and the type of people who frequent that place. J. Levine Books and Judaica and the surrounding neighborhoods demonstrate this idea of what a place is in the way they fit together. The people who Yelped about the store spoke good things about it, reflecting their good feelings of the business. The type of people who visit the store is directly influenced by the area it is in: a busy part of Manhattan, often visited by tourists. The store advertises its Jewishness, so it attracts mainly Jewish customers. In this way, place, people and business work hand in hand.

Below is a map featuring just a few of the many restaurants and Jewish businesses nearby.

The bookstore is conveniently placed, only a few short blocks from a Jewish Museum: Moriah Galleries, as well as many other Jewish businesses and organizations, as well as countless stores, hotels and restaurants. It’s right near the busiest parts of Manhattan and it knows it. Even the ‘About’ page on the store’s website fits in neatly with what I’ve said about the place in which the store resides: “When in New York City, join tourists and savvy customers from all over the world and visit our spectacular retail store at 5 West 30 Street, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building”.

Below is the J. Levine Books and Judaica storefront. It clearly stands out from the storefronts around it, with the large banner hanging from the building and the sign proudly stating the store’s long history (since 1890).


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Sources:

Websites:

Manhattan Community District 5 map: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/neigh_info/mn05_info.shtml

New York City religion statistics: http://www.city-data.com/county/religion/New-York-County-NY.html

J. Levine Books and Judaica website: http://www.levinejudaica.com/catalog/index.php

J. Levine Books and Judaica Yelp page: http://www.yelp.com/biz/j-levine-books-and-judaica-new-york

List of Manhattan neighborhoods: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Manhattan_neighborhoods

Images:

Map of Manhattan with Neighborhood lines: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5a/Manhattan_neighborhoods.png

Texts:

Creswell, Tim. “Defining Place” Place: A Short Introduction. Blackwell, 2004. 1-14.

Creswell, Tim. “Reading “A Global Sense of Place”” Place: A Short Introduction. Blackwell, 2004. 54-79.

Maps:

Google Map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=z-nBeB_Erdio.kzl3GCpwJ2dE

Streetview: http://unpackingthebookstore.susqu.edu/wp-includes/js/tinymce/themes/advanced/img/trans.gif