Shortly after rolling her cart into the frozen section at Best Value Kosher Meats in Northeast Philadelphia, a distraught Silvia Samuels suddenly embraced an employee, seemingly unwilling to let go.
Moments later, another longtime shopper walked in and immediately voiced her amazement that the glatt-kosher supermarket and butcher shop — one of the few in the city and surrounding area — would be shutting down. It's set to close on Jan. 5, after some 20 years in the same Bustleton Avenue strip mall.
"This is a shandah (disgrace) on the entire Jewish community. A Jewish institution is not being supported by Jews," Samuels declared angrily before continuing with her shopping.
Ira Feldman has owned Best Value for 18 years — the former owner had moved the shop from Bucks County to Northeast Philadelphia several years beforehand — and normally spends six days a week in the market that carries everything from kosher wines and chocolates to bison meat. It's also known for its free delivery policy.
Feldman stated that it wasn't the community's failure to support the business that led to his decision to close; he instead noted that demographics and economics were the deciding factors.
Feldman, a portly man in his 50s who lives in Lower Merion, claimed that larger chain supermarkets have steadily increased the amount of kosher products in their stock, drawing business away from his store.
"They will sell kosher items at cost — or below cost — just to bring in customers," he declared. "I don't have a $35,000 advertising budget a week. And I can't give away kosher, because that is all I have."
Standing in front of half-empty shelves adorned with Chanukah decorations, Feldman added that as the average age of those in the surrounding area's Jewish community increased and the number of young families with children has decreased, his overall profits have declined.
Feldman said there was still a small chance that someone could make an offer to buy the store and keep it going, but more than likely, it would cease to exist come the end of next week.
Over the course of 18 years, he has gotten to know many of his customers quite well. He said that he'll miss them, as well as the stores' 15 or so employees.
"If you stand around here, all you hear is 'How can you do this to me?' " he reported. "I'm sorry. I hung on as long as I could."
Feldman added that he is weighing his options as to what to do next in life and in business. However, a number of his customers, who have come to rely on his specialized service, haven't quite figured out how they are going to readjust their weekly routines — or just where they'll turn for products.
"This is going to change the whole way I get ready for Shabbas," lamented Carol Deppen, a customer since 1987. "I'm very upset. Every Thursday night, I'm in here."
Eve Shafer is also going to have to alter her routine.
"I guess I'll have go traipse through a big supermarket," she said. "The service here is on a personal level; you don't get that in other places."
Avi Strimber, 56, said that the community will miss Feldman for many reasons, not the least of which is that the entrepreneur often donated food to various charities.
"I don't know how you're going to replace him," admitted Strimber, adding that families often went to Best Value for strictly kosher trays for shivahs — and always got more food than they paid for.
"He knew the pulse of the place. You knew Ira. You called him Ira — never Mr. Feldman," added Strimber.
"There are certain landmarks in any Jewish community," he continued. "And he was one of those landmarks."