TORONTO — As they served customers last week at Negev Bookstore, co-owner Arthur Kaplan and his wife, Mollie, talked about their plans to close the venerable Bathurst Street shop later this month.
Their family is probably looking forward to it.
They have four children, living in both Israel and New York, and “not enough” grandchildren, and they all want their parents and grandparents to spend more time with them, Mollie said.
“They’re fighting over us,” she laughed.
Arthur, 69, co-owns Negev with his brother, Mordechai, 66. They’re closing the store and retiring. Arthur said they couldn’t sell the business, but they sold the building that houses it.
Arthur has worked in the Bathurst Street business, which stocked books, Judaica and religious items, since 1961, when their father, David, opened the store.
A third brother, Israel (Izzy), who died two years ago, also worked at the store until he opened Israel’s, the Judaica Store on Eglinton Avenue West, in 1982.
Without hesitation, Arthur credits the longevity of their business to God.
“We have to give Him credit for giving us a living, and for our children and grandchildren.”
Mollie added that their customer service was also a huge factor. “We catered to everyone from Chassidim to non-Jews, and we went out of our way to make our customers happy.”
She said that on one occasion, she and Arthur drove to Buffalo on the day of a customer’s wedding to pick up pre-ordered benchers, which had not arrived to a Buffalo warehouse until that day.
“We were attending the wedding, so we put our clothes in the car, picked up the benchers, and then drove directly to the synagogue, where we changed into wedding [attire.]”
Cecile Kaplan, Mordechai’s wife, said that her husband often delivered Jewish newspapers to his elderly customers if they couldn’t get out of the house.
A lot of customers became like part of their family, Mollie said. “Generations of one family came into the store. They understood why we are closing, but they were upset when they heard the news.
“People came in to talk, to tell us their problems. We were also there to listen.”
Arthur said the industry has changed since he and his father opened the store. “There are now iPads and e-readers, and people are buying books online. It’s a different world now.”
He feels “wonderful,” though, about retiring, he said.
“When I get a call from my seven-year-old granddaughter asking me to come visit, my heart melts. Now we can go, and we can stay as long as we want.”
Mollie said that the death of Izzy, who was the youngest brother, “really got us thinking about our priorities. You just never know what’s going to come.”