Something’s not quite kosher in Marine Park.
The neighborhood has seen a major influx of Orthodox Jewish families in recent years, but try as you might, you won’t find a kosher supermarket operating anywhere in the area.
Not that several haven’t tried. The remnants of one kosher supermarket still clings on at Yeshiva Ketanah of Torah Vodaath’s preschool on Quentin Road between E. 31st and E. 32nd streets. The school has been operating since 2008, but still displays the awning and large signage from the previous tenant, Kolbo Kosher Marketplace, which closed more than 10 years ago. After Kolbo, another Marine Park kosher supermarket, BuyRite, opened in 2007 — and then closed about a year later.
One local Jewish leader said the problem is that local operations just can’t win customers over from larger competitors based in Brooklyn’s more established Jewish neighborhoods.
“The overhead is high and they cannot compete with the cheap prices of other major kosher supermarkets like Moishe’s Discount Supermarket, which is located in Midwood, and KRM in Borough Park,” said Shea Rubenstein, executive vice president and founder of the Jewish Community Council of Marine Park.
Ira Shakes, who opened Marine Park Glatt in 2011 but then sold the business two years later, agreed.
“Customers don’t realize the operation in running a big store — heating, air conditioning, insurance, payroll, etc.,” he said “Expenses exceed profit, so you need high volume to break even.”
Abraham Reifer, who had success with other kosher establishments, was the next — and last — try to succeed in Marine Park, opening Kosher Discount Supermarket in 2012, but he too had to close just a year later.
“It’s hard to know what the clientele wants,” he said. “The place always had to be bigger, the food cheaper, the fruits fresher.”
Jewish homemakers such as Kaila Iserovich, who patronized the local kosher supermarkets, seem to exemplify the sort of discerning customer shopkeepers had to please. She said that the slow turnover and limited stock meant that it was often lacking in freshness.
“In the summer, the managers would put already frozen meat in the fresh meat section and sell it as fresh,” Iserovich said. “It’s just not okay.”
Shakes and Reifer dismiss that claim, saying that they discarded pounds of meat and produce each week since not enough customers were buying — especially during the summer months when many of their customers on vacation upstate. In the end, however, they said that a kosher grocer needs more than just a good business plan to succeed in Marine Park.
“Bottom line is, to make it here you need mazal,” said Reifer, invoking the Hebrew word for “luck.”