A landmark St. Louis Park business that bills itself as the only full-service kosher food store in Minnesota is set to close. Fishman’s Kosher owner Stewart Fishman announced Jan. 26 that the business’s lease at 4100 Minnetonka Blvd. will not be renewed after Feb. 21. The all-kosher business began in 1995 and has been operating at its present location near St. Louis Park’s border with Minneapolis since 2001 after moving from a smaller building a block away.”It’s been a long time,” said Stuart Ackerberg, CEO and owner of the building where Fishman’s Kosher is located. “It’s been a great asset to the community and we wish him the best. We decided to go in a different direction with the asset.”
Ackerberg said discussions are under way with a potential new tenant with a much different type of business, though he said he could not elaborate because the deal is not complete. He expressed reluctance to identify the reason for not renewing Fishman Kosher’s lease, but Fishman said failed negotiations over rent led to the decision. Fishman said The Ackerberg Group has allowed him to pay reduced rent for the past three years.
“My intent was to negotiate for the reduction in rent to be permanent, but we couldn’t come to an agreement on that,” Fishman said. “He’s not the evil monster here. It’s just market forces.”
Fishman said his business has been struggling with debt for a number of years and increases in the costs of utilities and food have cut into profits.
“We were blessed with some help,” Fishman said. “The landlord helped and vendors helped, but we were never able to get over some of the loans we took out.”
A very small chance exists that Fishman’s Kosher could relocate, Fishman said, but he said reopening elsewhere would lead to more costs.
“We had a good run and we’re proud of what we accomplished,” Fishman said. “I think we made a lot of people happy and served as a center for a lot of Jewish families.”
The business is located in an area with a high proportion of Jewish families near Torah Academy and has hosted Torah studies, but Fishman’s Kosher also made marketing efforts to attract the population at large, Fishman said.
As Fishman discussed the planned closure during an interview, St. Louis Park resident Dan Berger visited in Hebrew with a friend in a restaurant booth. Berger, an Israeli who has lived in Minnesota for about a year, said he visits Fishman’s Kosher three or four times each week.
“All the Israelis I know about here come three to four times a week,” Berger said.
He said he thought a waitress was kidding when she told him the news.
“The fact it’s closing down is shocking,” Berger said. “What I say is from my heart. It’s really not fair they’re closing.”
Since Fishman’s Kosher has housed both a restaurant and a grocery store, Berger said he feels as if two businesses are closing at once. Although several grocery stores in St. Louis Park sell some kosher food, Berger and others said they believe finding some products will be more difficult, especially for Jewish holidays.
“Anything you can’t find anywhere else, you can find here,” said St. Louis Park resident Yocheved Gepner, who said she planned to try to rally support for the business on Facebook. Postings by customers on Fishman Kosher’s Facebook page called the closure devastating and an emergency issue.
Rabbi Baruch Clein with St. Louis Park-based Blue Ribbon Kosher, which certifies kosher food, said this:
“We’re really sorry this is happening because he’s been a permanent source for the last 15 years for the kosher community, and the people who are remaining are not fully able to fill the shoes he’s left unattended.”
Clein added, “We’re hoping somebody comes from wherever they come from to perhaps pick up the ball and open up a space somewhere else.”
Ackerberg said he has received some critical emails, and realizes some customers are unhappy about the decision.
“I know there’s a lot of energy out there and people who are reacting perhaps without full knowledge of information, which is probably not healthy or wise or the way people should act,” Ackerberg said. “We have not only been landlords, but we’ve also been patrons of Fishman’s, and we wish him the absolute very best in the future.”
Ackerberg said that if a need for a business like Fishman’s Kosher truly exists, investors should come forward.
“If people want to do it, hopefully they’ll be passionate and put their money where their mouth is,” Ackerberg said.
For his part, Fishman said he is psychologically prepared for his time running the business to come to a close.
“I started this when I was 39,” he said. “Maybe there’s somebody in that age group now who will be as energetic as I was then.”