Report: N. Bethesda Jewish Shops Share Community, Customers


north-bethesdaAndrew Ujifusa reports: For the past few years, Mordechai Yitzhaky has prayed almost daily. But the owner of KosherMart in North Bethesda has had somewhat unusual partners in his devotions: the business owners next door.

Yitzhaky is part of an unofficial business fraternity of Jewish merchants at the Randolph Hills Shopping Center on Boiling Brook Parkway, not far from Rockville Pike. The stores’ common roots and shared customer base have made the business owners friends over the years, and they lend each other support.

“We have to invoke the landlord, too, you know,” Yitzhaky said with a laugh.

In addition to KosherMart — a kosher supermarket that has been at the shopping center for seven years, since it replaced a kosher market and deli called Katz’s — the shops include Israeli Accents, a Judaica store; Royal Dragon, a kosher Chinese restaurant; and Goldberg’s New York Bagels, which also is kosher. A kosher pizza shop next to Israeli Accents has closed.

The upper school campus of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School on nearby Hunters Lane creates an additional customer base for the stores, especially when school lets out in the afternoon.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins at sundown Monday, is an especially important time for the shopping center.

Yitzhaky said 25 percent of his annual business comes during the month preceding Passover, which helps bring business to the stores around him. Customers who shop at KosherMart for Passover but do not keep kosher might come back if they find they like the store, he said.

Leslie Kanner, owner of Israeli Accents, has been in the same location for almost a quarter of a century and remembers when Katz’s was the main draw for Jewish customers in the area.

One day during last month’s two major snowstorms, Yitzhaky’s wife, Tracy, helped Kanner out in a small but telling way by slapping a “Snow Day” sign on Kanner’s store to inform potential customers brave enough to travel the roads that Israeli Accents was closed.

“Everyone feeds off everyone else,” Kanner said.

Laurie Leone, whose daughter is a ninth-grader at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, shops at the center once or twice a week. Having so many specialized stores in one location creates energy and a strong sense of community, said Leone, of Bethesda.

“It’s wonderful to be able to walk directly from Israeli Accents to KosherMart,” Leone said. “You could go to KosherMart and know half the people who are shopping from the Jewish Day School.”

Sometimes the business owners double as their neighbors’ customers. Dan Keleman, owner of Goldberg’s New York Bagels, said he makes supply runs to KosherMart when customers have special requests.

“Either I’m buying things that he carries that I ran out of or things that he carries that I don’t have,” Keleman said.

David Moses of Rockville, getting into his car at KosherMart recently with his wife, Cathy, said he had been going to the Boiling Brook Parkway shopping center for 10 years, before KosherMart replaced Katz’s. Moses occasionally visits the other Jewish businesses in the center but goes primarily to KosherMart a couple of times a week to buy food, he said.

“It’s convenient,” he said. “They have a lot of Israeli products.”

Asked whether she liked having a cluster of Jewish businesses in the same location, Cathy Moses replied, “It would be nicer if there were more of them.”

A similar arrangement exists in Silver Spring around the Kemp Mill Shopping Center, where a group of Jewish food stores on Lamberton Drive are in close proximity to each other. Among them are Shaul’s Kosher Market, Ben Yehuda Pizzeria and the Kosher Pastry Oven.

Maya Ochayun, owner of Shaul’s Kosher Market at the Kemp Mill Shopping Center, said the store owners occasionally depend on each other for supplies.

“Everybody’s here for each other,” she said.

{Washington Post/Noam Newscenter}