Jewish Shops Become New 'Pillars' in Skokie
Rosenblum’s unpacks hamsots, menorahs in effort to help fill town's storefronts.
Owner Avrom "Avi" Fox has taken his "all-in-one Judaic store" to 9149 Gross Point Rd. in Skokie, which he says is the new hub of the Jewish business community. A new kosher pizza place next door—run by Fox's longtime friend Alan Katler—seems to reaffirm that.
"I can't imagine any location more attractive than Skokie at this time," Fox said, adding that in another 25 years someone might be saying the same thing about towns further north. For now, he said, Skokie is "the place to be."
This is no minor statement when his experience is considered. Rosenblum's' last locale, the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, once was known as the Jewish Magnificent Mile. When Fox bought the business in 1990, Rosenblum's was already an institution in the area.
Things have changed, Fox said. Russian Jews began to move out of West Rogers Park, making way for Indian, Hispanic and other immigrant groups. Increasingly, Rosenblum's' clientele had to commute to visit the store, and parking was scarce. When the current recession hit, Fox decided to follow the brunt of his customer base north.
During the 1990s, the Jewish population within Chicago's city limits declined by 5 percent, according to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. At the same time, its study reported that the Jewish population in the northwestern suburbs surged, growing from 8 to 19 percent of the total Chicagoland Jewish population.
"There's a lot of empty stores [in Skokie], and to fill up a couple of them is a nice thing to do," said Katler, owner of EJ's, a certified kosher pizzeria and dairy restaurant set to open in mid-December next door to Rosenblum's. "We picked the location for the synergy. He [Fox] will draw from me and I'll draw from him."
While EJ's 3,000-square-foot storefront is still undergoing structural improvements, most of Rosenblum's' floor space is already brimming with Jewish books and ritual items. The store even boasts Jewish toys and games for children, including plush Torah and Aleph Bet floor mats.
Some friends and loyal customers stopped by even before the store opened. One area rabbi visited Thursday morning to offer good wishes to what he called "a pillar of the community."
Village regulations have taken a long time to navigate, but Fox has no complaints.
"I think it's great that the Village of Skokie has very strict regulations," he said. "It ensures quality construction and it ensures that the building is safe."
Fox, a 20-year resident of Skokie, says he prides himself on civic responsibility.
"I'm not just in business to sell a widget," he said. "We're in business to try to promote a culture and, I think, the opportunity to do that in Skokie is something that people will appreciate and take advantage of."
Fox says the store serves as an unofficial Jewish referral service for people of other religions and ethnicities. "People are constantly flowing in and asking questions," he noted.
One such accidental student is Silvia Robles, 45, who has worked at Rosenblum's for 10 years. She says she enjoys learning new things about Judaism on the job and is looking forward to the new location despite an hour-long commute.
"Our mantra is that we cater to everybody," Fox said. "We respect everybody."