J. Levine and Judaica: Present, Place, and People
When one thinks of New York City’s Midtown Manhattan, they think of the iconic sights and sounds of Broadway and the bustling tourist attractions spotted throughout the area. It’s known for being at the center of everything, with the widest variety of businesses in the city. With the Broadway shows, the Diamond District on West 47th, and Korea Way on 32nd, Midtown is a widely diverse area of the city. However, there is a large Jewish community in the area as well. And in the heart of where these community locations are centered, nestled between importing companies and other international businesses, is a small family owned Jewish bookstore called J. Levine and Judaica, captured below in a street-view thanks to Google Maps.
J.Levine and Judaica Google Street View (View Larger Map)
J. Levine & Judaica’s close proximity to “culturally elite” community with locations such including Broadway, universities, and even other bookstores suggests a higher amount of focus on “the life of the mind” a concept in which Laura Miller brings to light in her book Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. She begins by quoting a statement made by Len Riggio (former head of Barnes&Noble) which suggested that selling books can be done in the same way as selling a product like toothpaste. She responds by writing: “[t]o sell books like toothpaste appears to reduce what books represent -the life of the mind- to something as generic ans purely utillitarian as toothpaste,” (97). People entering J. Levine and Judaica are looking for a more personal experience that they would not find by entering a “toothpaste minded” store like Barnes & Noble. The staff in the store can do more than point you in the right direction, they can tell you about each and every item in the store and something about it that isn’t written on the leaflet.
Although they do have an online store, they do want to keep their close “community feel” to their business. Their website has a small “instant-message” email that pops up once you’ve been perusing the site for a while, asking if they can help you with anything. I gave my email information, and have been emailing them to find out more information. Danny Levine emailed me back, stating that they “rely on Google and Yelp to interact with our surrounding neighborhood. My son Shawn, 5th generation uses Facebook and Twitter to spread our message online. We work closely with all the synagogues, schools and JCCs in Manhattan.” They are interested in an open communication with the cultural and educational institutions in their surrounding area, which brings back this “life of the mind” concept I mentioned earlier. In the short documentary on their website, Shawn says that “it’s really important to maintain that personal connection, we want to see our customers happy we want to see the actual smile on their face. Some of our customers, they want to come in to the store to shake our hand; we’re happy to help them online, but we really enjoy developing relationships with our customers. We are a very personal company.” At their store, they not only want to help someone find what they’re looking for, but to develop more of a personal connection between the store and it’s customers. They want to talk about this culture they share with their customers, and really have person to person interactions that invites their customers into their world.
In Tim Cresswell’s book Place, he write that “place is also a way of seeing, knowing and understanding the world. When we look at the world as a world of places we see differeht things. We see attachments and connections between people and place. We wee worlds of meaning and experience,” (p.11). J. Levine & Judaica has become one of these bridges between people, meaning, and experience. With a menorah placed proudly in the center of its logo, they have become one of the country’s largest and most well known Judaica stores. Their online presence is not particularly flashy, and their store isn’t standardized, but they know the significance of every item in their inventory. They understand the importance they bring to their community, and want to shake that customer’s hand to cement that real person to person relationship in their store. J. Levine & Judaica is doing so much more than selling books, they’re bringing people together. You can’t do that with toothpaste.
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print
Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Print.
president (personal correspondence, January 27, 2015)