Junior’s Deli faces abrupt closure Dec. 31.

Junior’s Delicatessen, which served the West Los Angeles Jewish community and the broader residential Westside for 53 years, will shut its doors for the final time on New Year’s Eve.

The venerable delicatessen on Westwood Boulevard, victim to what the owners call a landlord dispute, will close at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, displacing nearly 100 employees in the process. Customers dropping by on its last day will each receive a free bagel on what is expected to be an emotional day for staffers and customers alike.

Local resident Lenore Kayne, who used to patronize Junior’s even when she lived in Beverly Hills, called the news “horrific.” She added that her 4-year-old granddaughter loved to come to Junior’s with Kayne’s son on a regular basis. “She’s going to be devastated. How do you go down Westwood Boulevard without seeing Junior’s?”

Marvin Saul, a Korean War veteran who had gone bust as a uranium miner in Utah, was the deli’s founder. According to the delicatessen’s website, “With 35 cents in his pocket, Saul arrived in Los Angeles, did odd jobs and by 1957 had cobbled together $300 to open a small sandwich shop. Two years later, he established Junior’s, an eight-table delicatessen.”

The deli’s name came from Marvin Saul’s childhood moniker, “Junior.” Originally set up on Pico Boulevard, he moved it in 1967 to Westwood Boulevard.

His sons, David and Jon, inherited the business after Marvin Saul died last year, and had been helping to manage the restaurant since they were children. They said the impending closure is due to a lack of confidence by the building’s longtime owners, Four Corners Investment Company, in the Saul brothers’ managerial style.

David Saul said that a lease had been extended for the last six months and that he and his brother were confident that they could sway the landlord from closing the delicatessen. They had invested $38,000 into refurbishing the venue, from repainting the walls to adding new light fixtures and three television sets, he said.

The Saul brothers had tried to reach an agreement with the landlord up until the last minute. When that didn’t happen, they met with their staff Dec. 26 and delivered the bad news, only a day after the Christmas holiday.

“Ninety-five employees, 95 families,” said David Saul, morosely, as his younger brother, Jon Saul, dealt with a parade of media outlets descending on the busy deli on the morning of Dec. 27.

“It’s disgusting!” Jon Saul said. “It’s an icon. It’s been here for 53 years!”

David Burgoyne, a Creole native of New Orleans who has been delivering mail in the area for 25 years said the deli has been a neighborhood institution.

“I’ll miss everything about this place,” he said.

The closure of Junior’s will be different than those of chains like Borders or Barnes and Nobles book stores, according to David Saul. He said the restaurant and its catering services have long been a part of many families’ life-cycle events, from births to weddings to funerals, not to mention the site where many deals by executives from nearby 20th Century Fox have been sealed.

As news of Junior’s pending closure spread, a steady flow of longtime regulars swung by the restaurant to share their condolences with the Saul brothers and to pick up one last order … at least for now.

The silver lining is that Jon and David said they are committed to finding a new storefront in the vicinity as soon as possible. While many employees — some of whom have been part of the Junior’s family for multiple decades — will no doubt be forced to look for other work before the restaurant is ready to return, David Saul said that he has updated the information of his staff and he hopes to rehire as many as possible.

Still, David and Jon Saul were very emotional on Dec. 27, their reality compounded by the fact that it comes mere days before New Year’s. Still, David Saul praised the loyalty of the customers and staff.

“We have employees in excess of 40 years here,” he said. “It’s a shanda it’s happening.”

What will happen when the JCC at Milken closes?

Jacques Hay knows that the end isn’t always the end.

When he learned that the JCC at Milken in West Hills will close on June 30 to become the home of New Community Jewish High School, he could have despaired. After all, Camp Chesed, the summer camp for Jewish children with special needs that he founded, had operated out of the location for 16 years.

“I’m not one for change,” he said. “I was heartbroken, but we have an excellent relationship with the people at New Jew, and I’m looking forward to building a relationship over there.”

For now, though, like many of the programs and organizations based at the site, Hay and Camp Chesed are moving on. The two-week camp has found a new home in Chatsworth at Egremont School, where there is a swimming pool and plenty of room to play sports.

The decision to close the JCC, which has more than 1,000 members but has struggled to stay out of the red, was precipitated by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ decision to sell the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, where the facility is located. In explaining the closure in February, JCC leaders said they could find no appropriate, affordable venue for it to use while the high school takes a year to renovate the property.

Its demise will leave the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), which has no building of its own but provides programming at various locations, as the only JCC in the San Fernando Valley.

While JCC at Milken officials had hoped to continue its 80-student Early Childhood Center by moving to another location permanently, that never materialized, and it closed its doors earlier this month. To help families, the JCC hosted an open house with area preschools.

“The parents all attended, and everybody came and decided where they would go,” said Verna Fish, assistant executive director of the JCC. “I’m sure our children all found somewhere to go.”

The facility’s vibrant community for seniors will remain more intact. Most of those programs are moving to The Village at Northridge, a retirement community run by Senior Resource Group.

“They have welcomed us free of charge for all of our programs,” said Zita Kass, a Woodland Hills resident who has participated in senior groups related to books, current events and more.

She said the programs serve 200 people and cover a variety of topics, including Yiddish, finance and reading plays. Another popular offering, “Senior Shalom,” which includes food and entertainment, is moving to Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills.

Accepting the loss of the JCC won’t be easy for Kass, but at least her extended family of seniors won’t be dissolved.

“If you ask me if I’m still angry, I am,” she said. “But I’m delighted that we have an alternative. … People are very excited about the change. They’re so pleased that we were able to negotiate this.”

Jerry Wayne, executive director of the much smaller, 60-family NVJCC, said that group will do what it can to reach out to those affected. It offers numerous classes and activities and will send letters to members of the JCC at Milken after July 1 inviting them to participate.

Not everyone using the community center will have to relocate. The Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy, for example, will continue to offer lessons to hundreds of children on-site.

“We’ve been … negotiating with the high school to operate the academy there and remain on the campus,” said Krayzelburg, the academy’s founder and a four-time Olympic gold medalist. “We’re finalizing our terms … to continue to stay there and operate as we have been.”

Numerous community organizations, however, have had to search for new digs.

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is redirecting clients of its four-person career-services office to other area locations. The job club, in particular, will move to Sherman Oaks, just down the hall from an existing JVS office that serves refugee and immigrant clients and offers an at-risk youth program, said Katherine Moore, JVS vice president of communications.

With the location’s proximity to the 405 Freeway and numerous bus lines, she added that it should be very accessible to residents. The office is scheduled to open July 16.

“JVS’ commitment to our clients and jobseekers in the Valley remains constant,” she said. “The Valley remains a priority for us.”

Team Los Angeles, an award-winning team that competes in the JCC Maccabi Games, has been adopted by the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard.

“Westside JCC just stepped up and said [they are] willing to make sure that there’s no loss of opportunity for teams in the Greater Los Angeles area to go to the Maccabi Games,” said Brian Greene, Westside JCC’s executive director.

Up to 140 youths have taken part in soccer, baseball, basketball, track and other sports for Team Los Angeles, according to Ari Cohen, JCC Maccabi Games delegation coordinator. It will be business as usual this year for Valley competitors —  teams already have formed and most practices can take place at local high schools, he said.

Next year’s structure — whether it involves a consolidation of teams or not — has yet to be determined, Greene said.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) had offices on site and used classroom space as well. Staff now are located at the JFS Valley Storefront office on Victory Boulevard in North Hollywood; classes have been moved to Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Temple Judea in Tarzana and Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, and other temples have been welcoming as well, said Debbie Fox, senior director of children and family services for JFS.

The Jewish Free Loan Association’s office there already has relocated to Temple Judea. As for the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, it is moving to Ventura Boulevard, where in September it will occupy 10,000 square feet of space that officials say is closer to high-usage populations in Tarzana and Encino.

“When a door closes, another one opens,” Federation President Jay Sanderson said. “This is a brand-new opening for the West Valley and for The Federation to move into a new building.”

He stressed that the sale of the campus property was meant to make the best use of a community asset and that there remained hope the JCC would continue and even thrive.

Although that didn’t happen, Carol Koransky, Federation executive vice president, said there remains much to celebrate about the upcoming changing of the guard.

“How exciting to have 400 teenagers in the building making it a center of Jewish life that will continue to make it grow into the future,” she said. “As much as I was thinking I was saying goodbye to things, it made me feel very positive. It’s not like we’re shutting down the doors in this building and saying goodbye to Jewish life.”

Scott Zimmerman, incoming president of the board of trustees at New Community Jewish High School, said excitement about the transition is high among staff, faculty and students, even though they won’t be moving from their current location at Shomrei Torah to their new home until next year. Construction should begin this fall to reconfigure the main building for classrooms, he said.

“We have a menu of things that we’d like to accomplish, and we’ll accomplish them as we raise enough money,” Zimmerman explained. “Our first priority is to build state-of-the-art classrooms. That means that you have to have a campus that has sophisticated connectivity and all sorts of modern media.”

So far, the school of 368 students has raised about $13 million, and the campaign’s goal is to raise “significantly more,” he said. When the work is complete, Zimmerman is hopeful that the site will once again be home to community activities.

“I think, with the passage of time, the community will come to see this as a very positive change for the Jewish community in the Valley,” he said. “The school aspires to be a jewel to the community, and I hope that within the bounds of what we’ve committed to our neighbors that we will be able to have certain programming at the facility that will make people happy and make people proud that we’re there.”

In some ways, though, the end is definitely the end. The JCC’s Fish may know this better than anyone. She has seen how it has become a second home to so many people, including local seniors and Israelis, whose Mati Center activities will move to Temple Aliyah in September. After 16 years working at the JCC at Milken — and even more time enjoying it as a parent — she is crushed by the fact that it will soon close forever.

“This has been very, very difficult. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this day would ever come,” she said. “My children were fortunate to grow up here. It breaks my heart
that my grandchildren won’t have the same opportunity.”

Kosher Club closes its doors

The sudden closure on Dec. 9 of Kosher Club, a warehouse-style kosher market on Pico Boulevard near La Brea Avenue, saddened but didn’t really surprise industry experts or the kosher consumers who had been shopping at the store since it opened in 1987.

“What we are finding is that, as part of this recession, people are spending less than they used to on food, and that is hurting the markets,” said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, author of “Is it Kosher?” and rabbinic administrator of the Kosher Information Bureau.

Located slightly outside of the heavily Orthodox Pico-Robertson and Beverly-La Brea neighborhoods, Kosher Club couldn’t compete with larger markets in the centers of those neighborhoods, Eidlitz suggested.

Kosher Club owner Daryl Schwartz declined to comment or to reveal why the store closed with just a few days’ notice.

“Americans like one-stop shopping, so the larger stores are doing better,” Eidlitz said. “At one point, people appreciated the smaller markets, with personal service, but now people want a supermarket — the bigger, the better.”

Eidlitz said several mom-and-pop operations in the city and the San Fernando Valley have shut down in the last few years. While Kosher Club was a large market with many specialty items, it did not offer a full bakery or a lush produce section, and many customers reported that Kosher Club’s prices were high.

“It was worth the trip when you needed something special, but overall, it was not worth it because when you were buying basic things, it would just cost too much,” said Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a freelance writer who said she had cut her trips to Kosher Club from once a week to about once a month.

Cambridge Farms in Valley Village and Glatt Mart in Pico-Robertson, both owned by a group of five partners, also have seen receipts decline. Co-owner Meir Davidpour won’t say how much business has waned, but said they are feeling the crunch.

“People are buying their necessities, which are low-profit items like rice, oil, potatoes and basic meats — the cheaper stuff. They don’t reach for the much more expensive items, like the $35-a-pound cheese imported from France, which they used to buy,” Davidpour said.

More customers have asked for credit or for help, or have gone from two trips a week to one.

At 25,000 square feet, Cambridge Farms, opened in 2008, is the largest all-kosher super market in the West. Glatt Mart, opened in 2003, is less than half its size. Those markets have increased advertising, refocused on customer service and tried to offer low prices to ride out the recession, Davidpour said.

Davidpour said he has felt resentment from other stores, and said they even offered to include smaller stores in Glatt Mart’s purchasing power, so all the storeowners could benefit from Glatt Mart’s lower bulk prices.

Like Glatt Mart and Cambridge Farms, many of the kosher markets are now owned by Iranian-Jewish immigrants.

“When you immigrate to this country, there are certain steps you have to take, one by one. The people who were grocers 20 to 30 years ago are now doing something better; they’re at a higher step. We are still taking all those steps,” Davidpour said. “Grocery is very hard work. I work 75, 80 hours a week, and we’re five partners.”

Don Lubitz, who co-owns West Pico Foods, a wholesale distributor to kosher markets, said he, too, has seen that progression.

“When I came into this industry 30 years ago, there were a lot of stores owned by Holocaust survivors — Eastern Europeans and Russians. Slowly they sold to Persian owners, and Persians opened other stores,” said Lubitz, whose West Pico Foods co-owner, Elias Naghi, is an Iranian Jew.

Lubitz bought West Pico Foods in 1989 from Daryl Schwartz’s father, Mickey. The Schwartzes opened Kosher Club at the West Pico Foods warehouse in 1987.

Lubitz said immigrant populations — Iranian and Israeli — can account for much of the boom in Los Angeles’ kosher consumer base in the last few decades.

“These are very tough economic times — that is an understatement — but if you have the right customer service and the right items at the right price, you’ll exist,” Lubitz said.

Devotees swore by its superior wine collection, its personalized service, and a meat case renowned among kosher connoisseurs. Kosher Club had a large parking lot and the ease of just pulling into a spot, and its wide aisles and relatively thin crowds inside distinguished it from the more bazaar-like atmosphere of most other kosher markets.

Those benefits more than made up for the 10-minute drive from Pico-Robertson or La Brea, said Baruch Littman, a long time customer and friend of the owners who was at the store the day before it closed.

“This is home to me,” said Littman, who is vice president of development at the Jewish Community Foundation. “When I leave my house to go to a kosher market, I have never gone anywhere but here. Never. They have the best meat case in the entire city. Rosie is the best butcher in the entire city.”

Kosher club was also early to develop online shopping and home delivery.

Angel Soto, who has worked for the Schwartzes for 30 years, most recently driving the home-delivery truck, witnessed the volume of customers at other kosher markets and said he had been concerned about Kosher Club.

Soto, along with about a dozen other employees, were told of the closing just days before. Soto said customers already have offered him jobs, so he’s not worried about himself.

Toledo’s only day school closing

The only Jewish day school in Toledo, Ohio, is closing at the end of the school year due to a lack of enrollment.

The David S. Stone Hebrew Academy will shut down when the school year ends next week, the Toledo Blade reported.

The school, serving grades K-5, dropped from an enrollment of more than 100 students several years ago to 22 this year. It was founded in 1968 and served all Jewish denominations.

The United Jewish Council of Greater Toledo conducted a two-year study to explore alternatives that would allow the school to remain open. Among the options the committee studied was sharing the school with another faith group by holding secular classes together and religious classes separately, the Blade reported.

“It wasn’t a decision reached lightly or quickly,” Kirk Wisemayer, the UJC’s chief executive officer, told the newspaper.

The Jewish population in the Toledo area has declined from approximately 7,500 in the early 1970s to fewer than 4,000 today, according to the newspaper.

Wisemayer said there are more than enough children to populate the Jewish day school in the Toledo area.

“You have to ask yourself the question, ‘Does the community really support the Jewish day school if they’re not sending their children to it?” he was quoted as saying by the Blad. “And if they’re not supporting it, should we, as financial stewards, be funding something they don’t support?’ That was the primary reason for the closure of the school.”

Neither the school nor the UJC have noted the closure on its website.

Baltimore’s Yeshivat Rambam day school announces closing

A Baltimore Jewish day school will close at the end of this school year.

Yeshivat Rambam, which opened about 20 years ago and taught according to the Modern Orthodox philosophy of Torah U’Maddah, or Torah and secular knowledge, will shut down in June, it announced in a statement Sunday night, the Baltimore Jewish Times reported.

The school had already announced in January that it would close its high school division in an effort to get the rest of the school on its feet financially while working to increase enrollment in kindergarten through 8th grade.

But the financial situation reportedly proved to be too much for the award-winning school.

Parents and faculty were informed of the closing at separate meetings held Sunday night, according to the newspaper.

The school has retained a community-based adolescent-family-community relations counselor to help students, faculty and parents cope with the closing.

“Rambam faced rising costs, declining enrollment and a shrinking contributor base. Financial burdens were piling up. The time came for facing reality and making tough decisions. Thus, we have called this meeting tonight to let you know that it is with great sadness that Rambam’s Board of Directors has voted to close Rambam at the end of the current academic year,” Rambam President Meyer Shields said Sunday night.

Classes will continue on a regular schedule until the end of the school year. The school will help the students find other schools to attend.

Israel closing West Bank for Yom Kippur

Israel will close the West Bank for the Yom Kippur holiday, its army said.

The crossings will close from midnight Thursday until midnight Saturday “in accordance with security assessments adopted by the defense establishment,” according to an Israel Defense Forces statement.

Those needing medical attention will be allowed to cross into Israel, according to the statement. Humanitarian aid, as well as doctors, medical personnel, NGO members, attorneys and other professionals, will be coordinated by the Civil Administration.

Sweet Sorrow

A wall of neatly coiffed ladies charges up to the counter to place their orders for baked goods on one of the last days before the holidays and one of the last days before Brown’s Bakery in North Hollywood closes its doors forever. Some of the customers have been buying their cakes, cookies and bread here for as long as the bakery has been open, and that’s 42 years. Some have been Brown’s customers even longer, when it was Brown Brothers Bakery on Wilshire Boulevard; some for longer still, when Brown’s was in the Bronx, during the war.

Watching this crowd, it’s hard to believe they could possibly purchase their baked goods anywhere else. When Brown’s closes its doors April 15, God only knows what they will do. (In preparation for the bakery’s closing, one customer bought her birthday cake six months in advance and froze it.)

"Things have changed in this area," said Sheldon Brown, the burly, friendly second-generation owner of Brown’s Bakery. "The retail structure of the whole neighborhood has gone downhill. There’s nothing here now."

Looking up and down this stretch of Victory Boulevard, one can see ghosts of a Jewish neighborhood’s past. A dry cleaners, the Ventura Kosher Meat Market and the Circle M Market, all of which used to serve the large Jewish population of 30 years ago, are gone. Now there are only nondescript offices and empty shops. The only other store on the block is a beauty school, which might explain all the nifty do’s but doesn’t generate a lot of customers on this stretch of the Valley.

As far as closing his shop goes, there were other problems besides the neighborhood, Brown said.

"The Health Department told us that no one could walk through from the parking lot [in the rear] to the front of the store," Brown said. "Have you ever tried telling Jewish people they couldn’t walk through? A tank wouldn’t stop them; they’re going to walk here anyway."

Case in point: a stream of elderly ladies marches through the narrow kitchen, looking around at the freshly baked goods, nodding approval, and making their way to the front of the bakery.

"The baker just kissed me," one of the ladies said before disappearing around the corner.

Ten years ago, as the neighborhood went through changes, Brown saw his wholesale business take off as his retail portion began to decline. Brown realized it would be a waste of time and money to remodel.

Even with old customers traveling from all over the Valley to buy, the North Hollywood neighborhood could no longer sustain enough business. Finally, the landlord asked for more rent.

"That was it," Brown said, and decided to get out of retail. After April 15, Brown’s wife, Judy, will become new owner of the wholesale portion of the business. She plans to lease another space and continue to deliver to clients such as Brent’s, Art’s, Bagel Nosh, Billy’s, Roxy’s, Wylers, Robertson Ranch, and a number of other delis and temples and synagogues in the Valley.

"When people heard we were closing down, they began calling: ‘What are we going to do?’ ‘Where are we going to go?’" said Judy, who married Brown shortly after he opened the bakery in 1959. "We’ve gotten hundreds of flowers and notes; I never would have imagined the response. We try and do a good job and have a good product, and [Brown] loves being with customers, but after 42 years, it’s enough."

Enough, however, is not a word Brown’s customers have ever used.

"I am really going to miss this place," said Ruth Crystal of Valley Village. "I’ve been coming here for 56 years. We’re like family." She said she was a customer also when Brown’s was on Wilshire.

"I’m going to cry a lot," said Gladys Horowitz, who travels from Encino. "I’ve been coming since 1960."

"My whole family has been raised on Brown’s products," said Isadore Widre, an elderly gent from Encino who is accustomed to hanging around the kitchen. "I used to send packages up to my daughter when she was in college in San Francisco; I think she paid her way through school with Brown’s strudels and chocolate chip rugelach. Now she’s a successful speech pathologist, and she’s still getting packages from home."

"I moved away from this neighborhood, and I’d come back here to buy and put [baked goods] in the freezer," Joan Stein said. "Now I don’t know what I’m going to do."

"Please put a big caption in your story: We will miss you!" said Magda Hoffman.

"I used to be a customer of theirs in 1941 in the Bronx," said David Berger, an incredibly fit 87-year-old. "I worked on Park Avenue, and I’d buy Brown’s bread and rolls; I’ve been a fan ever since."

"You see what’s going on here," said Brown, standing in the kitchen, listening to his customers’ accolades. "Everyone’s schmoozing; it’s a happening. We’re like one big family."

Unfortunately, like all good things, even bakeries must come to an end, but one wonders how Brown, the preeminent baker of chocolate-chip sponge cake and babkas, who so obviously enjoys the social interaction of his customers, will adjust to not having a bakery. A guy like this must have his hands and back involved in his work and in the neighborhood. But if the neighborhood no longer exists, what does a person like Brown do?

"I can’t really talk about that now," he answered.

Instead, turning to his wife, he said, "Fix her up with a little something, Judy."

That’s a refrain his customers will sadly miss.