Roslyn Kosher Foods is closing after nearly 40 years

On March 17, Roslyn Kosher Foods closed for good.

It wasn’t just the end of an era for their customers. The closing also marked the culmination of Emily Jacobsons nearly 40 years at the 1,350-square-foot Albertsons store, including a decade as owner.

My regulars were very discouraged, and even those who come every two months or weeks were not happy. They thought he would be here forever, said Jacobson, whose married name is Ruggiero. A lot of excitement came through the door.

In those final days, the longtime stores’ clientele, which had been so much a part of Jacobson’s daily life, flocked to the store not only to buy its kosher meat, cooked meals and packaged offerings, but to barter goodbye hugs and kisses with Jacobson. Many also said goodbye with gifts, including balloons, candy, plants and flowers.

Paul Woldar, 63, of Roslyn, was among the customers who left for one last visit to the store. Jacobson is amazing and will be missed by a lot of people, she said, adding that she and the store had been very much a part of the community.

For Jacobson, who lives in Melville, kosher stores in the waning days were bittersweet.

Looking back, it was a lot of hard work and stress and a lot of good times and friendships made along the way that I will never forget, he said.

Jacobson took over the store in 2014 after the death of his father, a Hungarian immigrant who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.

My dream was not to have a kosher food market, but it came to me and became my life, he said. It became a part of me and did not pat me on the back. I’m proud that I was able to do it. I really didn’t think I could, but I did.

START AS A CASHIER

In 1985, Jacobson, who grew up at Albertson’s for more than 50 years, said he started working at Roslyn Kosher shortly after his father, Irwin Eddie Jacobson, and stepmother, Glady, bought the operation. Back then, the store was just a butcher shop.

Irwin Eddie Jacobson to Roslyn Kosher. Credit: Emily Jacobson Ruggiero

Before coming on board, Jacobson, who has suffered from migraines since he was 12, had been unable to hold down a job because of his crippling headaches, he said. But after the store cashier left, her father talked her into taking over with a promise she couldn’t refuse: Whenever she got a migraine, she said, she could stay home or go go home and never be fired.

Their offer was a welcome one, Jacobson said, noting that during his migraine-induced absences, other employees, as well as his father, handled the register.

Over the years, Jacobson said he added other responsibilities to his daily duties, including overseeing the meat department.

One thing I can’t do is cut meat, he said. It wasn’t my thing, and I never had to because there was always a butcher.

His father also persuaded his sister, Julie, to join the business if only temporarily. Because his brother, who had worked in catering, had not yet decided on a career, his father suggested he help start a prepared foods and catering department, Jacobson said.

Using the prepared food counters of other stores to educate herself on the market and using her personal recipes to fuel Roslyn Koshers new venture, Julie turned added foods into a monster business, Jacobson said, and the dept. he became her baby. And like her sister, Julie became a permanent shop.

Emily Jacobson with her sister, Julie.

Emily Jacobson with her sister, Julie. Credit: Emily Jacobson Ruggiero

Julie and I were everything to my dad, and he loved us more than anything, Jacobson said. As a Holocaust survivor, she said, she never thought she would see the day she would have children of her own, and we were all close.

Working under the same roof, the sisters often talked about running the store together when their father retired.

But in 2011, Julie, then 54, died of bladder cancer three years before her father died, aged 85, of kidney cancer.

When Jacobson returned to the store after Julies’ death, the adjustment was excruciating, he said.

Her father, himself about to retire from active involvement in the business, showed the operation to a potential buyer in July 2011 because, he told Jacobson, he didn’t think you would want to continue without Julie.

Despite her grief, Jacobson said she was determined to keep the store, including the catering and prepared food business that had thrived under her sister.

With the Jewish holidays just a couple of months away, and with her constant desire to carry on her sisters’ legacy as well as not to disappoint store customers, Jacobson said she asked her father to let her spend on Rosh Hashanah in September. How he went to the shop during such a busy time, he reasoned, would show if he had the right supplies to keep him going.

Emily Jacobson with her father and sister at Roslyn Kosher.

Emily Jacobson with her father and sister at Roslyn Kosher. Credit: Emily Jacobson Ruggiero

To this day, he said he continues to thank all the suppliers who rallied around him with their support and allowed him to keep the store as his family business.

After her father’s death in 2014, she was equally committed to staying the course.

Her husband, Vince Ruggiero, an account executive with a food broker, took over the accounting duties, making sure Roslyn Kosher made money.

And Jacobson’s employees supported her at the top of the business, she said.

It had a larger staff than now probably about six full-time workers [which had been] enough to go on, he said. Most recently, the store employed one full-time and two part-time workers.

Jacobson noted that she valued the friendships she formed with many of her clients. A lot of people begged us to open a location in the Hamptons, he said. But it wasn’t in the cards.

However, ownership proved difficult. Once I took over, the weight was on my shoulders 24/7, he said.

DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE

Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 caused a week-long power outage that wiped out the stores’ frozen and refrigerated inventory, Jacobson recalled.

And in March 2020, she fell seriously ill with COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized. The disease affected his stamina. Meanwhile, rising food prices during the pandemic hurt his business. Some of his customers were put off by the price hikes, he said, adding: Who’s going to buy a $45 prime rib? As a result, it said it kept raises to a minimum, which hurt its profit margins.

The changing demographics and purchasing habits of the communities had also affected the business. During his father’s tenure, the stores’ clientele was kosher 24 hours a day and filled the wagons every day, Jacobson said. Now, many people do not keep kosher or are limiting the tradition to holidays.

Emily Jacobson, owner of Roslyn Kosher Foods, is in her…

Emily Jacobson, owner of Roslyn Kosher Foods, stands in her store on March 12. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Also, many of the longtime kosher-committed customers have moved or died, or became empty nesters and bought far less from Jacobson than when their children lived at home, he said.

She also believes that Roslyn Kosher lost sales to larger kosher stores, which offer a wider selection of food and household items than it could.

At Holtsville-based Nassau Provisions Kosher Foods Inc., which has supplied a wide selection of products to retail markets throughout the tristate area, including Roslyn Kosher for four decades, Brandon Horowitz, an executive at the family-owned retailer, said the challenges that Jacobson faced were not unique to his business.

Not only is the kosher butcher shop gone, but so is the kosher deli, especially if they had mostly secular Jewish customers who are generally less committed to keeping kosher than previous generations or Orthodox Jews, Horowitz said.

As the years went by, with the business not what it once was, Jacobson said he didn’t hire new workers to fill positions vacated by employees who retired or moved. Instead, existing employees took on new or added responsibilities. And since COVID-19 had sapped his energy, he stopped catering and making deliveries.

Since last summer, intending to retire but keep the business alive, Jacobson said he tried to sell it, but no serious buyer materialized.

Although Jacobson’s two sons, both in their 20s, had helped out during the Rosh Hashanah and Passover rushes, running the store wasn’t his cup of tea, he said. Also, a small kosher food market is a dying breed and something they could not count on for their future.

CUSTOMER LOYALTY

In early March, the Roslyn Koshers website featured a letter from Jacobson announcing the store closings and thanking customers for their unwavering support, trust and loyalty. The site also urged customers to stop by and stock up on your favorites.

And they did.

I can’t even believe how many people come to the store all day, Jacobson said in those last few days.

With Easter just a month away, many customers had asked her to stay open a little longer, wondering why she was closing before the holiday.

Looking back, it was a lot of hard work and stress and a lot of good times and friendships made along the way that I will never forget.

-Emily Jacobson

But Jacobson had no doubts, explaining that the store was understaffed to enjoy the holidays. His previous vacation help had either died or now grown to full-time jobs, he said.

When I heard it was closing, I was sorry, said Francine Lerner, who owns a kosher house and had shopped at Roslyn Kosher for 24 years. They knew me and knew what I liked. The meats were superior and so was the service.

The 50-plus-year-old Searingtown resident said she had no choice but to start making an adjustment in her shopping routine and patronize another kosher store, even if it wasn’t as convenient for her.

As Jacobson closes a chapter in his life to begin another retirement, he said he plans to spend the start of his new time resting, recuperating and recovering from the stressful years of ownership. Also, the Roslyn Koshers finale had been an emotional rollercoaster, she said.

Her to-do list also includes fixing up her house, which she said was neglected when the store took over my life.

But reflecting on all her years at Roslyn Kosher Foods, Jacobson said she will miss the many who were there for me in the good times, when I had my children, and in the hard times, when the my sister and my father.

And, she added, she wouldn’t trade the extra time the store allowed me to spend with my dad and sister. I am very grateful for that.

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