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Niche Market | Sukkahs

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Yanky Friedman in the "Royal Sukkah" at Sukkah Depot. (Sarah Kate Kramer)

New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market takes a peek inside a different specialty store and showcases the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity. Slideshow below.

Sukkah Depot of Boro Park
1359 39th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11218

Some go to Home Depot, others go to Sukkah Depot.

Wednesday night marks the beginning of Sukkot, the week-long Jewish holiday that commemorates the biblical story of the Israelites wandering in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. To celebrate the holiday, Jews are commanded to live — including eating and sleeping — in a temporary shelter, called a sukkah.

About 12 percent of New Yorkers claim to be Jewish or of Jewish descent, so it's a week where quite a few temporary structures pop up on balconies, porches and yards in the city — sometimes with controversy. It's also the pop-up month for Sukkah Depot™ stores in dense Jewish neighborhoods. These stores, operated by a large company that claims to have sold 500,000 of their patented Sukkahs worldwide, appear solely for the month between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Sukkot.

Like many old-testament tracts, design specifications for building a sukkah are rigorous, to say the least. They must have at least two complete walls and a partial third wall; the minimum area must be 7 x 7 handbreadths (a handbreadth is 3.5 inches); the roof, called a s'chach, must be made out of natural materials that are unconnected to the ground (trees canopies are not kosher!); the s'chach cannot touch metal and though the sukkah must provide more shade than sun, stars need to be visible.

If you're DIY inclined and enjoy a challenge, any hardware store is sufficient for sukkah building materials, and that's certainly the cheapest route for urbanites who cannot harvest branches. But for those who fumble with nails and screws, Sukkah Depot's 21st century options are a relief: ready-made, certifiably kosher, 20-minute assembly, waterproof sukkahs. Varieties include the "Classic," the "Royal," the "Easy-Panel" and the "Carry-On." The company catalog explains the shop’s mentality: "There has never been a better way to set up your sukkah without breaking a sweat!"

"It's very simple, you don't need any tools, or screws or hammers," explained Moshe Klein, a salesman at the Boro Park location. The sukkahs have hooks for hats, ledges for books, decorative panels that fix exactly into the metal frame and extra-kosher rope to ensure the walls don’t fluctuate beyond the biblical definition of a sukkah wall.

Sukkah Depot rents space in warehouses, book stores and houseware suppliers during the Jewish high-holiday season, but its only permanent location is in a warehouse in what's known as the sukkah district: 39th street between 13th and 14th avenues, in Boro Park, Brooklyn. It's a block normally dominated by a huge kosher supermarket, but during the Jewish high-holiday season a temporary sukkah industry transforms it into a traffic-clogged madhouse where entrepreneurs hawk sukkah wares. After shopping at Sukkah Depot or its competitor, Leiter's, Jewish customers often go next door for folding furniture and plastic fruit decorations at Wilhelm's, or across the street for special fruit and branches for blessings at "Esrog 4 U."

Sukkah Depot stores — where you'll just as likely hear negotiations in Yiddish as English — sometimes stay open until 3 a.m. during the Sukkot rush.

Last week, Sam Adler, a retired city inspector, purchased a new "easy-panel" sukkah, a lego-like expandable model made of wooden panels that snap together. Small versions start at $500, huge 20x30 panel sukkahs can cost a few thousand dollars.  Adler, a great-grandfather, came to the depot because his canvas sukkah needed to be replaced. "The one that I had got farschimlt, you know what that means? Moldy. It got moldy," he explained. He needed the sukkah to fit at least 10 people, and 23-year-old Yanky Friedman was drawing specs for it. Friedman, a temporary worker who studies Jewish texts the rest of the year, said most customers are worried about durability. "If hurricane Irene comes, will it fly away? And the answer is yes, probably, it can collapse, but otherwise than that it's a pretty sturdy," he said.

(Photo: Workers "schlepping" a sukkah at Sukkah Depot. Credits: Sarah Kate Kramer)

Interview with Moshe Klein, a salesman at Sukkah Depot.

How are Sukkah Depot's sukkahs different from other sukkahs? 

The difference is that our sukkah, the whole point of it, is that our sukkahs are very easy to assemble and they're very easy to take down, to store, and they're treated. So basically if you go to Home Depot to pick up wood, which you'll see a lot of people do, it takes them many hours to build it, you have to use nails and screws, also it's a lot easier to get ruined if it rains, and over here it rains a lot. Our sukkahs, they're treated against weather, so it's a long-lasting sukkah. We give a basic warranty on the fabric-lock sukkahs of three years and an extended 10-year warranty to anything that happens to the metal, if it breaks, if it rusts, if it cracks, if it bends. So, basically you know when you buy a sukkah that you're set for many, many years and people expand their sukkahs, after 10 years they come and they want to expand it because their family got larger.

What are the different varieties of the sukkahs you sell at Sukkah Depot?

We have two main kinds of sukkah. One which is made out of fabric and metal poles, you connect the poles as a frame and then you wrap the fabric around it, which is very easy to assemble, it's very easy because it comes in boxes, and the roof on top you throw up as a mat. That's one kind of sukkah, it's called an "easy-lock" sukkah, it's two heights, one is the "Classic," it's seven feet high and one is the "Royal" which is seven and a half feet high. The other kind is panels. We have panels made out of MDF wood, which is pressed wood, and a metal, aluminum frame which is very easy to connect, they just click one to another, that you can basically custom make any size you want...Any panel could be either a corner or the addition of a wall. It's a lot more impressive, because you walk in and it's wood, it's a lot more stable, and the roof is the same as the easy-lock sukkah.

Where are the sukkahs manufactured?

I once heard a saying God created heaven and earth and everything else is Made in China.

Sarah Kate Kramer
Salesman Moshe Klein demonstrating how to assemble Sukkah Depot's classic sukkah.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sam Adler in Boro Park's Sukkah Depot.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Salesman calculating the size of a sukkah.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
A class of pre-schoolers from Bais Yaakov of Bensonhurst visited Sukkah Depot to learn about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
A class of pre-schoolers from Bais Yaakov of Bensonhurst visited Sukkah Depot to learn about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Through the window of Sukkah Depot, a man carries a bamboo roof for his sukkah.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Schlepping a sukkah.
Sarah Kate Kramer
Yanky Friedman in the "Royal Sukkah" at Sukkah Depot.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Service at Sukkah Depot in Boro Park.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
The "Carry-On" sukkah, popular for camping, can be assembled in one-minute.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Instructions for assembling the Carry-On Sukkah.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
After shopping at Sukkah Depot, many customers check out the decorations for sale at Wilhelms, two doors down.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
After shopping at Sukkah Depot, many customers check out the decorations for sale at Wilhelms, two doors down.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Ori Shwartzman, owner of Esrog 4 U, across the street from Sukkah Depot, where people purchase the fruit and plants for blessings during Sukkot.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Rings for the esrog and lulav, used for blessings on Sukkot.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sukkah decorations in Boro Park.

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Comments [3]

Valerie Foley from NYC

I recommend you do a spot on Tender Buttons, at 143 East 62nd Street. They sell nothing but buttons. Some are actual vintage or antique buttons, some are copies, some are their own designs. Their buttons can be serious, whimsical, standard, entirely non-standard, textured, painted, cloth, horn, bakelite... you get the idea. The layout is great (it looks like a little bit of the 1930s that got preserved somehow), and the staff is very laissez-faire unless you ask for help.

Oct. 19 2011 01:50 PM
ruth from los angeles

Last night I had dinner at the Chabad
Sukkah here in Los Angeles and
Rabbi Korf said that going to Home
Depot earlier had been 'like going to
Shul," with lots of people buying
equipment and lots of people coming
back and asking how to use what
they'd bought. Sounds like we need
a Sukkah depot! Also, the young
Rabbi from Crown Heights who is
visiting told of stopping trucks etc
in NYC which carried Sukkahs or
their unassembled parts and expaining
to the Drivers what they were and
then INSISTING they stop and
share a beverage and a piece of
cake which I gather the Chabadniks
had! He said everyone seemed to
enjoy the experience.

Looking at the full moon from within
the Sukkah last night here in LA was
particularly special, since at l0 pm
it was 80 degrees and clear!

Oct. 13 2011 02:59 PM
Paul Kaltenbach from New York City

Hi,

I have a suggestion for a Niche Market segment that will resonate with your listeners who enjoy viewing Olympic Figure Skating.

Many of the competition dresses and pairs costumes that the competitors wear are designed right here in a small and un-assuming three person shop in Hell's Kitchen run by Tania Bass.

It's an amazing place where it is common to find a choreographer and competitor who have just flown in from overseas for a fitting, and then next-up is a skating mom with a daughter who is early in her career facing her first regional competition.

All around the shop are pictures and memorabilia of past olympians and current champions - all who wear Tania's work. Literally - It's the historical who's who of competition figure skating.

Tania herself is a pretty amazing story as well. She was sent to the United States from El Salvador as a teen to work as an au-pair to support her parents and siblings back home. She went to school at night to learn english, then learned the garment trade in the sweat shops of New York as a sewing machine operator.

She still keeps the old dairies from her teen years in which she wrote time and again how she how she was going to make in America, and in the fashion industry. Indeed, she has.

That said -- I think it would a great piece for air and on your site. She can be found at www.TaniaBass.com

If I can answer any questions just let me know.

Best Regards

Paul

917 282 5715

Oct. 12 2011 05:05 PM

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