Rabbi Boruch Klar wants the community to know the Lubavitch Center in West Orange is not closing; rather, he said, it is being reinvented.
After serving as director of community outreach at Rabbinical College of America in Morristown for over 20 years, Klar moved to West Orange as director of Chabad of Essex County. The Lubavitch Center of Essex County — home of Lubavitch Center Judaica, a shop selling books, ritual and gift items, and children’s educational toys and games — opened its doors in 1994.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 25 years,” said the rabbi, with a touch of wonder in his voice. “There wasn’t that much in Judaica available at that time. We started small — some books, music, toys, and Jewish games. Not a lot; basically, we were there to meet a need in the community. Our goal was to complement — never compete — with what was already available to the community.”
The store was open scarcely a year when it became clear an expansion was needed. The center moved from its original 800-square-foot space to its current 1,800-square-foot facility. “We didn’t even close the store; we did it overnight — I was much younger then,” he said. “I remember sleeping in the store. It was a really special moment.”
Over the years the center carried an increasing inventory as Klar was determined to ensure that it offered something for everyone. He was spending most of his time downstairs at his desk handling the business end of things instead of interacting with community members upstairs in the store.
He said after 25 years, he has come to the realization that “it’s time to do it a little differently.” Saying he did not want to make the business exclusively an online venture, he came up with this idea “of reinventing the store.”
It was his children who helped him map out a plan. “They told me Best Buy is a big, big store, but it can’t compete with Amazon.” Rather, “it created a need that can’t be met by a huge on-line retailer. Instead, it offers a large — but not huge —selection and personal service. It’s a different kind of experience.
“I have a service that’s unique, but not so unique anymore,” Klar continued. “Instead of having everything for everyone and a store full of merchandise, I want the center to offer a different kind of community service.”
The store will remain open during the renovation.
His vision for the place, still a work in progress, includes its having something akin to a Starbucks vibe. He emphasized that it will complement — and not compete — with what already exists in the community. The excitement in his voice was evident as he explained that “it won’t just be a store anymore. I want to have guest authors, artists, activities, programs for children. I plan to have comfortable seating in the front of the store, where guests can sit and enjoy a good cup of coffee.
“I see it almost like a lifestyle center for the Jewish community.”
Although the selection will be somewhat winnowed down, the shop will continue to offer the highest-quality Judaica and ritual items, he
He plans to spend most of his time upstairs, together with Devorah, who serves as codirector of the store. “I want to be there for people, whether they need help buying a gift or just need to talk. This is the community service I was meant to do.
“Judaism is joy,” he said. “I want to share that joy.”
THE LUBAVITCH CENTER, located at 456 Pleasant Valley Way,
West Orange, is holding a Reinvention Sale through the end of February. Hours are Monday-Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 973-731-0770.