Hitler clothing store in India to change name

The owners of a men's clothing store in the Indian state of Gujarat said they would change the store's name from Hitler.

The store in Ahmedabad is named for one of the proprietor's grandfathers, whose nickname was Hitler. He reportedly was called Hitler “because of his strict nature,” according to The Times of India.

Shop owner Rajesh Shah told The Indian Express that he and his business partner Manish Chandani decided Monday evening  to change the name because they were “getting political pressure” to do so.

“We received at least 10 calls every day from the U.S., the U.K., Dubai, Germany and Israel. It was getting very annoying, as many of these people called at odd hours,” Shah told the Indian Express.

Israeli consul general to the Indian city of Mumbai, Orna Sagiv, on Monday during a visit to Gujarat asked state officials to intervene in order to convince the owners to change the store's name, according to The Associated Press.

Shah told the Indian Express that a visit by local officials helped convince them to change the store's name.

Shah said he did not know about Hitler's history, except that he was a strict man, until he started researching it on the Internet.

Jews from the local synagogue had visited the store last week to express concern over its name. Jewish community members said they believe the owners are not as ignorant of the history of Hitler as they say.

Is the bookstore dead?

On Dec. 31, when the Barnes & Noble at the corner of Pico and Westwood boulevards closes its doors for the last time, the “people of the book” and everyone else who lives on the Westside of Los Angeles will move one step closer to becoming the “people without a bookstore.”

“Are you serious?” asked Danielle Villapando, who was at the store with her family one evening last month. Villapando used to shop at the three Borders bookstores that had been located nearby — that chain went bankrupt last July. Villapando, who was in Barnes & Noble to pick up the newest “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book for her 7-year-old son, knew what this store’s closure meant: No more trips to bookstores.

“There’s the one in Marina del Rey near Costco, but I’m not driving all the way there,” Villapando said. “Plus, it’s not nearly this big.” One also remains in Santa Monica.

But on Jan. 1, for the first time in recent memory, no major corporate bookseller will exist in the swath of Los Angeles between the coastal cities and The Grove.

“With no more bookstores in West Los Angeles, we are going to be relegated to a literature-less existence,” said Lee Shapiro, who was at Barnes & Noble on a recent evening. He had come with his wife, Miki, to look at books about landscape design.

The truth is, “literature-less” is something of an overstatement. For bookish folks in the area — including many Jewish residents who, on the whole, buy as many, if not more, books than the average consumer — four independent bookshops stand at the ready to help all comers, including two general-interest bookshops (Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood and Diesel in Brentwood), a children’s bookstore (Children’s Book World on Pico Boulevard) and the UCLA campus bookstore.

Still, it’s a major shift in just a few months. So how did this come to be?

For Howard Davidowitz, who has been following the book retailing business for 30 years, the question is a no-brainer with a one-word answer: Amazon.

Davidowitz is chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a retail consulting and investment-banking firm headquartered in New York. Amazon, he said, began to take bigger and bigger chunks of the book market at precisely the moment when people started cutting down on the number of books they were reading overall. Of those still reading books, Davidowitz said, an ever-growing number have moved to e-books — most of them bought from Amazon for its e-reader, the Kindle. And many of the folks who do buy books in print are buying them online — if not from Amazon, then from some other Web-based retailer.

Amazon was, in short, a triple whammy for traditional bookstores. Borders, Davidowitz said, didn’t dedicate major resources to Web-based retailing and digital reading, and went bust as a result.

“Barnes & Noble is still alive because they did the Nook,” Davidowitz said, referring to the electronic reader developed by the last remaining national chain of brick-and-mortar booksellers.

The Barnes & Noble bookstore at Pico and Westwood boulevards, scheduled to close on Dec. 31.

Davidowitz’s account of the slow demise of the book business is convincing, particularly when it comes to the rise of digital reading. In May of this year, Amazon announced that it had sold more e-books for its Kindle e-reader than printed books — and that was before the company released the newest generation of the device, the Kindle Fire, in November. Today, Barnes & Noble stores are filled with advertisements for the company’s own e-reader-turned-tablet computer, the Nook Tablet.

But even if digital reading is the future, it’s not clear how much of these companies’ current revenues come from the sales of e-books and readers. Amazon, which didn’t provide sales data with its announcement earlier this year, prices some of its e-books as low as 99 cents and, according to a recent report, is selling the Kindle Fire at a small loss in an effort to lure customers into buying it.

Barnes & Noble’s Web-based retailing and digital reading businesses are growing, but according to Peter Wahlstrom, a consumer analyst who covers the bookseller for investment research firm Morningstar, that side of the company “isn’t profitable at this point.”

“The bread and butter, where they still make a lot of their money, is on the individual books that are not bestsellers,” Wahlstrom said, adding that the typical customer often comes in without a specific title in mind. 

Which may help explain why Mitchell Klipper, the CEO of Barnes & Noble stores, said that the reason his company is shuttering the Pico-Westwood store — which has operated, apparently successfully, in that location for more than 15 years — can be boiled down to a single word: Rent.

“We don’t like closing stores,” Klipper said of the 28,000-square-foot retail space, which includes a cafe with a killer view straight up Westwood Boulevard. “If the rent was lower, we wouldn’t be leaving.”

Those who know the book business know that at one time, major booksellers might have been able to count on a big break in rent from a mall owner.

Doug Dutton, the owner of the former Dutton’s bookstore in Brentwood, remembers how it worked, perhaps to his disadvantage. His store was a home for book lovers from the time it opened, in 1984, until it closed — to the great dismay of many Angelenos — in 2008. “I can’t say that in my negotiations I necessarily got a better deal,” Dutton said. But in the 1990s, “when Barnes & Noble and Borders were sort of duking it out with one another, I understood that there were some very lovely sweetheart deals being offered to both in order to get them into a retail area.”

Rachel Rosenberg, executive vice president at RKF, a commercial real-estate broker specializing in retail sales and leasing, confirmed what Dutton had heard.

“Absolutely,” she said. “These tenants were major draws.” This was, Rosenberg explained, in part because unlike the department stores that also occupy very large spaces in shopping centers, Borders and Barnes & Noble weren’t selling clothes.

“It’s just like putting a grocer to anchor a project, or a gym,” Rosenberg said, mentioning the businesses that today have begun occupying large retail spaces at shopping centers, bringing people in on a weekly, or even daily, basis. “Bookstores were once that. It was a go-to.”

So, did the Westside Pavilion just stop offering a “sweetheart deal” to its longtime tenant? It’s hard to say, because all that Barnes & Noble’s Klipper would offer was that he imagines the new tenant — a furniture store, called Urban Home, which is scheduled to open in summer 2012 — “paid probably double what we paid.”

Since nobody involved in the deal will disclose exact numbers, it’s equally possible that large bookstores like Barnes & Noble — despite their high traffic — have just become less- or unprofitable. “What I can tell you,” said Ryan Hursh, senior property manager at the Westside Pavilion, “is our real estate department worked with Barnes & Noble’s real estate department and tried to come to an agreement. But, in the end, it was Barnes & Noble’s decision to leave the property.”

Protest forces London Ahava store to close

An Ahava store in London was forced to close again after pro-Palestinian activists blocked the entrance.

Two activists reportedly chained themselves to a cement-filled barrel and had to be removed by police, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Ahava produces lotions and bath crystals using Dead Sea minerals on West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians. It has been the target of boycotts and protests worldwide.

The same London store was forced to close twice in 2009, in September and December, due to protests in which activists locked themselves to the same barrels.

‘Jews for Jihad’ Just for Starters

“Go Ahead, Make My Shabbos!” No, it’s not Clint Eastwood turning religious, but a slogan on a T-shirt and coffee mug at Jewschool store, a Web site offering cheeky sloganned goods like T-shirts, underwear, caps, pins and bags.

The “Ghetto” tote, for example, which totes the Jewschool.com logo, sells for $12.99. There’s the famous line from The Big Lebowski, “I don’t roll on Shabbos” featured on T-shirts ($18), boxers ($16) and, of course, bowler’s shirts ($21) – but the movie’s other famous line, “I’m shomer *** Shabbos!” hasn’t made it onto any products just yet. Not that the site shies away from offending: check out “Ramah Girls Are Easy” tees ($20) and trucker caps ($14), which made the camp none too happy (but because the logo doesn’t say “Camp” they can’t sue), and the “really not tznius” bikini underwear ($9) referring to modesty or lack thereof. (The “Jesus Is My Homeboy” set off a copyright infringement threat last year from TeenageMillionaire.com that produced the “Jesus was a K***” T-shirts.)

Many of the slogans are political, such as “The People Are With Tel Aviv” and “The People Are With Palestine”(a parody of the Israeli “The People Are With The Golan”); “Gaza Strip Club” and “Jews For Jihad.” Some are just randomly benign, such as “I [heart] Goyim” and “Love Your Brother.” But all go toward supporting the Web site’s main endeavor, Jewschool.com, a blog that covers divergent opinions in the Jewish community that has been in operation since 2002.

“We try to be a venue for dissent and alternative viewpoint,” said Dan Sieradski, the founding publisher and editor in chief of Jewschool. He calls Jewschool an “open revolt” for disenfranchised Jews who are alienated and bored by the Jewish mainstream. The site, which has 35,000 visitors a month, lists alternative viewpoints, blogs, Web sites, events and projects for these type of Jews.

Sieradski, a 26-year-old freelance journalist and DJ from Teaneck, N.J., who is now in the process of making aliyah, works with many of the avant-garde, young “hip” Jews: Jewschool recently formed a content partnership with “Heeb” magazine, to trade stories; Sieradski is also a contributing editor. Danya Ruttenberg, a student at UJ and the author of “Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism,” is also a contributor, as is Aaron Bisman, director of JDub Records, and Jay Michaelson, editor of Zeek magazine — key names of this anti-disestablishment movement, if a loose gang of disenfranchised rebels could be termed as such.

The primary goal of the site, Sieradski said, is to advance the havurah movement, which means “fellowships” for prayer and study, a do-it-yourself kind of un-institutional community. They hope to have the Internet havurot up by the High Holidays.

Jewschool, he says, “dares to be what others can not: It pries Judaism from the lifeless fingers of the Jewish establishment and serves it up to the public with the insistence, ‘This belongs to you,'” he says. “Come ‘n’ get it.”

Star of the Canyon

The Canyon Country Store — the star-studded grocery featured in the older woman/younger man film "Laurel Canyon," starring Frances McDormand — is actually run by two Persian Jews.

Owner David Shamsa and manager Tommy Bina have tried to maintain the store’s authenticity.

Shamsa, who was an influential Persian Jew in Iran during the shah’s regime, was the head of National Iranian Steel Mill Corporation and director of Iran Hotel Corporation, hosting many American officials such as Henry Kissinger, and Sens. Barry Goldwater and Ted Kennedy.

Just a few months before the Islamic revolution, Shamsa fled to the United States and, in 1982, bought the building in Laurel Canyon.

The only store nestled in the verdant Laurel Canyon, Canyon Country Store, built in 1919, has served as a location for several films and is also a hangout for many artists, musician and actors. The cozy, friendly place is reminiscent of a small-town store — whose patrons have included celebrities like Liam Neeson, Sophia Loren and Mick Jagger. Downstairs is a restaurant, Pace ("peace" in Italian), and adjacent is a wood house where Jim Morrison used to live.

Bina told The Journal he feels a responsibility for the entire neighborhood. Together with other locals, he has formed a voluntary group to clean up Laurel Canyon’s surrounding area, for which he has received an award.

"The city doesn’t take care of this area very well," he said. "We do this to protect the environment."

Clothes Call

There was a time when the retail clothing industry was thriving.

“In the ’80s, my customers spent almost 8 percent of their disposable income on clothing,” said David Sacks, owner of Sacks SFO apparel stores.

However, time and a change in consumer habits have eroded this reality. Over the last decade, Sacks, 53, has had to close several of his outlets. He watched his retail miniempire dwindle from 20 stores nationwide to two local outlets: one in Studio City (12021 Ventura Blvd.) and a new location in Culver City (9608 Venice Blvd.).

“We’re going back to our roots,” Sacks said. From the onset, Sacks’ intention was accessibility.

“My mission goal is to provide people who work for common jobs to dress in uncommon wardrobe,” Sacks said. “To make a guy who makes $30,000 dress like a guy who makes $100,000. I’m very value-driven, not label-driven. I don’t care what labels I stock, as long as they look good and are of good value for my customers.”

That accessibility is not only found in the merchandise sold. It also extends to Sacks himself, who runs a hands-on business, where he enjoys schmoozing with his customers at his stores.

“I’ve never been in it for the money,” he said. “I didn’t want to work for someone else, but I don’t want to lose money. My employees will see a raise before I do.”

Sacks retreated into a back office, where he offered what he jokingly calls “my Horatio Algerstein story” — the origins of a hometown boy who grew up in a Conservative kosher home in Cheviot Hills and attended Hamilton High School and UCLA.

Sacks’ parents met at Indiana University. His mother, of Lithuanian descent, came from a well-to-do family that ran a department store in Terre Haute, Ind. His father, of Romanian and Ukrainian heritage, put himself through medical school selling sandwiches. He moved his wife to Los Angeles, where he became a prominent pathologist and later built the pathology department laboratory at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Sacks was something of a rebel during his school days.

“I went before the principal for buying candy and selling it on campus,” Sacks said.

That was in the second grade. A few years later, when the new pennies were released in 1959, Sacks made some pocket money selling two pennies for a nickel. By the fifth grade, he was winning poker games.

“I didn’t need an allowance again,” Sacks said. “I was lending money to my brother [Phillip Sacks, now practicing general dentistry in Woodland Hills].”

During the 1960s, Sacks continued hustling.

“I sold unreleased Bob Dylan recordings before bootleg tapes were deemed illegal.”

Then Sacks became a phlebotomist, one who draws blood for transfusions.

“That was rather boring,” he said.

The boredom ended the day when he accompanied his bridge partner downtown to the garment district. Sacks convinced a supplier to give him a dozen items to sell. Sacks sold them off his arm in office buildings.

“I was originally thinking of calling it ‘Lost on Horizon,'” Sacks said, referring to the original Horizon Street location of his first store, next to the Sidewalk Cafe on the Venice Beach boardwalk.

But instead, he called his clothing outlet Sacks Fifth Off, and Saks Fifth Avenue didn’t share his amusement. After two years of legal wrangling, an agreement was reached between the two parties, and the chain’s current moniker, Sacks SFO, was born.

Twenty-five years later, Sacks now resides with his wife, Nikki, in Cheviot Hills. He has two grown children — Anthony, 26, a technical theater apprentice, and Andrew, 24, a substitute teacher.

A few years back, Sacks started a Giver’s Club, giving customers a 10-percent discount off of store items in exchange for clean clothing donations. The donated clothing goes to shelters that help battered women and AIDS hospices.

Sacks takes the clothing business in stride.

“I never had the foresight or the money to buy the buildings. My last big downsize came after the Northridge earthquake,” said Sacks, who had already been stung by the Los Angeles riots.

Despite its ups and downs, Sacks wouldn’t trade his experience for anything.

“The best part is that I’ve made friends with people all around the world,” Sacks said. “It’s an immigrant’s business. People are very bright, but may not have formal education. I’ve met people from every continent, and every religion.”

People of the Book

Just try to sidle your way to the counter at the 613 Mitzvah Store on Pico Boulevard to pay for your purchases. You’ll have to be patient and agile, since the 1,300-square-foot store is neatly jammed from floor to ceiling with all manner of Judaica: kiddush cups, havdalah trays, a case full of mezuzah covers for every taste and budget, and, oh yes, about 7,000 books. Also, you’ll likely bump elbows with other customers. Business has continued to burgeon in the decade since Rabbi Shimon Kraft and his wife, Elizabeth, opened the 613 Mitzvah Store. There is rarely a slow time in the shop.

The growth of the Mitzvah Store mirrors that of other longtime local Judaica stores. The House of David in Valley Village operated out of an 800-square-foot storefront for nearly 50 years. But three years ago, owner Moshe Gabay spread out into a 1,800-square-feet space to better accommodate his bursting inventory and the growing appetite among Los Angeles Jews for more and better Jewish texts and literature. And Brenco, located on Beverly Boulevard near La Brea, recently took over the storefront adjacent to theirs, a space that they have dedicated solely to book display.

"Since I took over this store 11 years ago, the number of books I carry has multiplied about 30 times," Gabay estimates. "And many customers are coming because they have questions and they want answers. They may be Jewish but not have studied Judaism when they grew up. When they have children, they want to give them something. They want to educate themselves."

Never has that prospect been easier. In the last 25 years, there has been an explosion in the world of Orthodox Jewish publishing. The pioneer among these traditional publishers has been Mesorah Publications in New York, whose Artscroll library has rescued the genre from its tired, unimaginative and staid condition and introduced a classy, expertly designed and edited series that has captured the attention of thousands of Jews from every point on the religious spectrum.

Artscroll editor Rabbi Nosson Scherman notes that its highly successful Stone Chumash (the five books of Moses annotated with commentary) has more than 300,000 copies in print.

"This was an idea whose time has come," Scherman says of the series. "Orthodoxy in America had been moribund for many years after World War II. There were very few yeshivas, and fewer girls’ schools. When Orthodoxy began to have a rebirth in the late 1970s, there was a need for titles that looked good and were well written and edited."

Artscroll’s elegant design and sophisticated editing also help it appeal to a broader audience. "The Orthodox are sometimes thought to be like cave men who have never acclimated to modern society," Scherman says. "When people see books like this that look good and read well, it enhances the image of Orthodoxy."

No one, least of all Scherman, could have predicted the enthusiasm with which the series caught on. It began with a single volume of the Book of Esther, brought out to honor the memory of a close friend of Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, now chairman of Mesorah Publications. The name "Artscroll" came from Zlotowitz’s own art gallery, and the book was meant to be a one-shot. But it went through five printings, and a phenomenon was born. Artscroll, which in its first few years published 10 to 15 titles a year, now publishes about 50 a year. Overall it has about 700 titles, including various commentaries on the siddur, the High Holiday machzor and other texts, as well as children’s books, adventure novels, biographies, and self-help titles.

Artscroll’s most ambitious project has been its publication of the Schottenstein Talmud, distinctive not only because it was one of the first such English translations, but also for the comprehensiveness of its translated commentaries.

Fifty-five of the projected 73 English volumes in this series have been published so far, along with 15 volumes in Hebrew. The publisher expects to finish the brisk-selling English series in four years. (Plans are also underway for a French translation of the Talmud and a Spanish translation of the daily siddur.) Because each of the Talmud volumes costs more than $250,000 to produce, Mesorah Publications sells dedication pages in many of its books to offset the cost. Among the major benefactors of the series are James Tisch, president of Loews Corporation, who, though not Orthodox, is a member of Mesorah Publications’ board of trustees, and Jay Schottenstein, for whom the Talmud series is named. Not for the Orthodox only, the Schottenstein Talmud is also used at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and Reform’s Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).

"Thousands of people who have never studied Talmud before can now do so because of our work," Scherman says. "They’ve been able to reconnect."

What else accounts for this surging demand for texts published by traditional Jewish voices? Rabbi William Cutter, professor of education and modern Hebrew literature at HUC-JIR, admits, "The Orthodox writers have a certain appeal. People moving into Jewish life intensively want to know these opinions." Cutter himself has edited 27 books for Behrman House, a Jewish publisher not affiliated with any movement, and owns an Artscroll siddur, which he sometimes refers to for its commentary.

"We live in de-anchored times," Cutter says, "even though a lot of that is for the good. We seek things that center us, and the strictness gives us a benchmark. I have a lot of respect for it."