‘Ben Ari Arts’ Judaica Store Shutters, Residential Conversion on the Way

Posted on: February 17th, 2014 at 6:00 am by
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In March 2010, the Ben Ari Arts Judaica store celebrated a half-century at 11 Avenue A (it opened five years earlier at 201 Allen Street). Now four years later, the store is shuttered; it subsequently relocated to Cedarhurst (530 Central Avenue).

Store proprietor Yakov Melmed cashed out, selling the entire building he owned to Better Living Properties for a sum of $3.4 million. Plans are already underway to convert the three-story retail building into a six-unit residential complex. A fourth floor is part of said proposal, increasing the total area to 5,020 square-feet. Gates remain drawn, and brown paper covers the windows.

Ben Ari Arts was certainly one of the last Judaica stores on the Lower East Side. It was founded by Hungarian immigrant Mark Lebovic, a veteran of World War II. Upon his return from service, he opened the store at 201 Allen Street (with a brief stint on Grand), before settling in Alphabet City. He then took on a business partner, Melmed’s father, a union that lasted for the next three decades.

Melmed told The Villager in 2010 that few people really frequented the store. Nevertheless, ot survived in recent years – during the neighborhood gold rush – by selling items wholesale and via mail order.

It also seems a bit sad that Ben Ari Arts is one of only two remaining shops of its kind still to be found on the Lower East Side, when there used to be more than 50 such stores selling everything from gift ware to books.

“Most of them were on Essex, Ludlow and Eldridge Sts.,” he said. “But in the late ’70’s Chinatown started to expand and, one by one, these businesses closed. As Jewish communities throughout the country started to grow, these kinds of stores sprouted in those communities, rather than them all being centralized here.”

“Right now I don’t have any children who seem interested in the business,” he said. “When I decide to retire in maybe 10 or 15 years, I’d love to sell the business unless someone in my family would be interested in taking over.”

Guess the family wasn’t interested in continuing at this location.

Meanwhile, Better Living is helmed by one Abraham Soudry, who was previously convicted for bribing an undercover investigator posing as a building inspector. So the building is certainly in great hands…

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