In a retail world dominated by chains and online sales, for six decades, the Israel Book Shop in Brookline, Massachusetts has stood proudly as an enduring and inspiring example of the success that comes from true customer service.
Israel Book Shop Founder Eli Dovek was born in a small town near Warsaw, his survival in a Russian labor camp in Siberia, then to Prague and England after the war and finally settling in the US in 1949, eventually to Boston. Though trained as a shochet (butcher), Mr. Dovek soon realized the city lacked a bookstore that meets the needs of the growing Jewish population. With support from a hard-working family, he opened the Israel Book Shop on Harvard Street in Brookline, MA in 1956. As it grew over the last 60 years to embrace Judaica, gifts, jewelry and music, as well as an expanding selection of sefarim (religious books), the store was destined to not only move across the street to its current locale at 410 Harvard but to expand four more times, taking over five previously separate storefronts over the years. In fact, observers often note that the Israel Book Shop is a sterling example of how family and employees form a cohesive team. The true winners are the customers who consistently receive the expertise and service they need - a rarity in today's automated and impersonal retail world. A trip into Boston's Jewish Advocate archives traces the story of this phenomenal family business.
An early ad in the winter of 1956 "invites everyone to come and choose from the wide selection of Israeli gifts and novelties. "In the winter of 1970, Dovek was quoted as saying how important each customer was to him. "I can help them with some of the most important moments in their lives," he added, including the new bride looking for guidance in creating a Jewish home and the student going off college who needs a mezuzah "to remind him of his sacred religion." Mr. Dovek even foresaw the ba'al teshuvah (religious returnees) movement and spoke of the customers "who missed out as children looking for a book to help them learn Hebrew." In fact, booksellers like Dovek, the article concluded, "are a vital if unsung part of our Jewish communal life."
An article in the summer of 1972 reports on the move across the street to larger quarters at 410 Harvard Street. Another that came out the spring of 1995 quoted founder Eli Dovek as saying "the secret to the store's success is that all the staff works in harmony."
An article published in the fall of 1997 focused on the shop's ongoing expansion and mentioned the sales of Torahs that range into the five figures, as well as the repairs of many Torahs the shop has overseen.
And an update in the spring of 2014 listed sales of everything an astounding variety of merchandise from the thousands of books that form the core of the business to silver ritual items to shemurah matzoh, from textbooks to jewelry, from tallesim to toys and from menorahs to videos> It goes on to call the shop "a clearinghouse for information on Jewish practice and customs."
"We're seeing people who've come as children as parents and as grandparents," saleswoman Miriam Natan told the paper then. "Some who have moved away come back and want to know if Mr. Dovek is still here so they can say hello. We have a real sense of family here."Meet The Team