Boro Park Snapshot: Scharf’s Judaica

Boro Park Snapshot: Scharf’s Judaica

You could buy anything from shoes and suits to light bulbs and silverware on 16th Avenue. You could purchase those items just on 49th Street’s intersection with that boulevard. But if you want Judaica, there’s only one place along the entire avenue to go: Scharf’s Judaica.

The aisles and round stands that populate the store are filled with books for adults and children, yarmulkes, sefarim, benchers, machzorim, music CDs and talleisim. Hovering over it all is the learned and soft-spoken proprietor, Benzion Scharf, who opened the store twelve years ago, he told’s Heshy Rubinstein in an interview.

“I was a wholesaler in the sefarim line,” he said simply when asked what gave him the push to open the store, “and I thought it would be a good idea to start doing retail.”

The Judaica center, located at 4904 16th Ave., is nestled between such Boro Park icons as Zoldan’s suit store and two Schwartz Shoe shops. It’s as if the block was issuing an invitation to come and get clothed head to toe.

“We sell all Judaica,” Mr. Scharf said, “but our specialty is kapplach for the children with their names written on them. We also do stamping of sefarim. Our most popular items are books and toys.”

Work in a catering hall and you get to taste the culinary delicacies produced there. Work in a sefarim store and you become a talmid chacham. Mr. Scharf says that he goes through every item he sells to decide which age it’s appropriate for. Therefore, that has made him a maven in his line.

“You have to know what you’re selling,” he said, “that when a customer comes in I can match what he needs with what I sell.”

Working in Boro Park is sure to have its comic times or moments of consternation. Mr. Scharf recalled one such experience, when a delivery of sefarim arrived at his store just as he was readying to close. He decided to finish the closing process and then get to the sefarim. When he returned a few minutes later, the holy books — ten boxes in all — had disappeared.

Mr. Scharf checked his camera and was astonished to discover who the burglar was — his private sanitation company had carted them away.

The biggest challenge to Scharf’s, as it was to most other stores and businesses, was the coronavirus that cleared Boro Park’s busy streets of people and emptied many wallets. But even that turned out to have a benign effect on his bottom line.

“At first we expected the very worst,” Scharf recalled. “But it didn’t turn out to be that bad. People were home and were bored, and the orders came pouring in the whole day by phone. I had to work harder to fill the orders and make the deliveries, but in the end I didn’t suffer that much [financially] from the coronavirus.”

More than ever at this time of uncertainty, Mr. Scharf stressed, it important for Boro Park residents to have each other’s back.

“Shop local,” he pleaded. “Local is always better than online. If there’s any problem it’s a lot easier to come into the store and talk to someone than it is talking to a computer.”

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