J. Levine Books & Judaica: Diversity and Community
My very first introduction into the world of buying and selling books began early in my childhood while working for my father’s auctioneer company. There, along with the rest of their personal property, my family and I would organize someone’s personal library into boxes that would then be sold to the highest bidder. These Saturday auctions that I’ve grown up with, served as a bookstore for me, allowing me to add each week to my personal collection. While this is a fairly nontraditional sort of place for the literary lover to consume their favorite product, it offered me the same experience I would have received from either a chain or independent store. While this “bookstore” had no permanent address to which I could return to week after week, my father had regulars, a sort of “groupies,” that would show up at each sale with their bidder number in one hand and coffee in the other.
Like the public auction, J. Levine Books & Judaica is neither the Barnes & Nobel nor typical independent most immediately think of when imagining the American bookstore. Located in the NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, it fits in perfectly between the other culturally diverse restaurants and retailers surrounding it. Found on West 30th Street, J. Levine shares the road with other commercial buildings, including a Marine Import Inc., an African-American retailer, and an Oriental rug showroom, Shalom Brothers. Also, just down the street is the publisher Book Sales, specializing in supplying books to wholesalers.
Shalom Brothers, Oriental Rug Showroom
The neighborhood of NoMad is located in the Manhattan Community District Five, bordered by Central Park to the north, 14th Street to the south, 8th Avenue to the west, and Lexington Avenue to the east.
With a total population of 51,673 people in 1.6 square miles, 67.7% of this number consists of White Non-Hispanic residents, although this figure has decreased by nearly ten percent from 2000. With a median age of 37, the average income of $163,601 and only 9.1% of the population receiving income support, further highlights the vibrant and thriving atmosphere of the neighborhood, as shown in the varied shopping and literature scene it offers.
While the community has a rich history, the present day diverse and intriguing features found within it appeal to many of its tourists and residents. Manhattan District Five includes Times Square, and the iconic Empire State and Flatiron buildings. For this reason, the community, and specifically the neighborhood of NoMad, boast diverse eateries and eclectic entertainment spots. The Museum of Mathematics and the Museum of Sex are both found within the NoMad neighborhood, sites that, thanks to their unique appeal, are visited by both tourists and locals alike. Located three blocks from J. Levine Books, Dhaba Indian Cuisine and the Cannibal offer cuisine for the culturally intrigued palate. Specializing in Indian and Belgian food respectively, these restaurants offer a diverse option to the oyster bars and plethora of coffee shops sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. Lebanese, Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian menus can all also be perused at other local eateries, allowing one to, literally, dive face first into a new culture without even leaving New York.
The Museum of Sex
NoMad also offers a varied religious scene, containing a mosque, Episcopal Church, and non-denominational church within its geographical boundaries. Additionally, two miles away from J. Levine, in the neighboring Lower East Side, stands the Angel Orensanz Center, the fourth oldest synagogue building in America, now converted into an art gallery. Although it no longer offers the traditional weekly religious services for the Jewish community, Bat Mitzvahs and weddings are still held here.
AR-Rehman Foundation, Mosque
In his essay on defining place, Tim Cresswell shows how places with even “bare essentials have history,” whether it is obvious or not (Cresswell 2). However, people will make their mark on the place, adding their own personal style and flair, transforming space into a place, one that is now unique and recognizable (Cresswell 2). The NoMad neighborhood has done just this, incorporating stores and restaurants that reflect a thirst for diversity, and which obviously appeal to a large number of tourists and residents. J. Levine offers their customers a chance to shop for community, a place where they can form “social bonds based on the affective ties and mutual support” while appreciating a past “steeped in tradition” (Miller 119). No matter the geographical location of a bookstore, the book buyer is able to recognize its cultural function through the place it creates and the community it evokes.
J. Levine Books & Judaica as it currently stands today
J. Levine Books & Judaica photo <http://www.levinejudaica.com/catalog/index.php>
Google Maps: Shalom Brothers, Geography of J. Levine Books & Judaica, The Museum of Sex, AR-Rehman Foundation, J. Levine Books & Judaica
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.
Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.