Friday, December 21, 2007

B&H Photo Video: Yidn mit Pixels!

So you want a camera? You've come to the right place. B&H Photo Video is the largest photo supply shop in New York, if not the world. Located on the corner of Ninth Ave. and 34th St., B&H is the ultimate gadget store in the world for anybody involved in film or digital anything - especially Fumie... who seems to be magnetically drawn there on every trip we make to the city.Fumie likes B&H. Which is relatively easy since they do such a huge volume of business that their prices are easily the lowest on quality cameras and electronic goods. If a web site offers lower prices than B&H (or say, 17th St. Photo, another reliable New York photography supply giant) then it is very likely a scam business operating out of Brooklyn, where internet based photography supply businesses set up slick web sites to lure the unsuspecting and then hit them with various overpriced "supply problems." B&H is the safe alternative - they have an efficient tracking sytem and you can actually trust what they tell you on the phone.The first thing that one notices when entering B&H is that the staff are overwhelmingly Hasidic or Orthodox Jews. Hard core Yidn, speaking yiddish, twirling payess, sneaking out to the back offices to daven a bit during their breaks... Ahhhh... my people! And that is part of the secret of their success. Most of the staff here are Satmar Hasids - Hungarian ultra-orthodox Jews who followed the court of the Satmar rebbes.The business is owned by Herman Schreiber - his wife is named Blimie and together their initials make up B&H's name. Schreiber and many of the store's employees are Satmar Hasidic Jews who close the store on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Surpassed only by the Diamond District in terms of Orthodox Jewish employment, the company is a vital part of the Hasidic community's life, with hundreds of Orthodox Jews on staff. An Orthodox Jewish bus company provides daily service to and from Kiryas Joel, a Satmar village in Orange County, New York. As I write this, on Friday afternoon on Dec. 21, we are looking at the most hectic weekend of retail shopping in the year. Christmas weekend. But B&H Photo is closed, as it's web site says... even its web site is closed to processing internet sales. B&H really doesn't care if it is losing a few multi-million dollars in sales this weekend. It is Shabbos. Jews do not do business on Shabbos. The Queen is here. That is more important. And that is a lesson that should be noted by anyone who thinks Jews are only about business...The Satmars are known as one of the more insular sects of Hasidism. When not running the world's largest retailer of digital modernism their private customs reflect life in 19th century Jewish Hungary. That world ended with the Holocaust, but the Satmar survivors who followed Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum to Brooklyn have an interesting take on that - there are now far more Satmar Hasidim than there ever were. Satmar has simply out-bred the holocaust. As always... Satmar wins. You simply can not beat the Torah fearing Jews of Satmar. You wouldn't want to even try.Miles and miles of Nikons, Canons, and digital whatever, and over 1500 staff eager to help you personally with your order. If you have to wait, help yourself to some kosher chewy candies, free from bowls located all over the store. Unfortunately, last week there were only "green" flavored ones - something called green apple, but basically, green flavored. Alas. I prefer the purple or pink flavored ones.One of the interesting aspects of B&H is the incredibly efficient in-store delivery system. You tell a staffer what you want, and he hands you a printout reciept. Above your head - and below you, beside you, and invisibly all around you - is a complex system of roller tracks and green baskets ferrying hundreds of orders up from the basement warehouse to the check out counters.As you stroll about making purchases, these are automatically added to your order reciept. Up at the entrance to B&H is a barrage of counters where you make your payment and then proceed to the pick-up counters, where the roller tracks have delivered your order and it is bagged and waiting for you.One of the fun aspects of visiting B&H is ... taking pictures in the store. Orthos don't usually like their picture to be taken. Usually Hasids run and hide from the mere sight of a camera. At B&H, nobody cares - it seems like at any given time, three or four hundred people are pointing some tiny Canon digitals at something and clicking away. Nothing could be more invisible here than somebody... taking pictures! Got a problem... no problem. Make a return? No problem. As long as you don't expect business on Saturday, no problem at all.And in the great Yiddish spirit of Holiday Irony, Merry Christmas to all the readers of Dumneazu!


Pink Granite said...

Thank you for the detailed description and recommendation!

蔥爆牛肉Vivian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Soumya Mitra said...

Great blog, you almost teleported me in the store! The owner Herman seems to be a hero, who not only grew a successful business empire but also remembers his roots and takes care of his community. We need more people like Herman.