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(photo credit: Meredith Price)
There may not be any authentic witches roaming the skies above downtown Tel Aviv, but if there were, they would know where to find transportation.
"A store that sells just brooms?" asks my friend incredulously. "In Israel?" That's right. Just brooms.
"Only on Rehov Sheinkin," says my friend.
And that is exactly where store owners Sean and Maya Man chose to be.
"This is the city than never sleeps, and Rehov Sheinkin has character, so we decided this would be the best place for us," says Man, who recently renovated an old optometrist's store that had been open and unchanged for 60 years.
"I have old Tel Aviv residents come in all the time and ask me if I know who was here before me and how it used to look," he says, carrying a few bamboo ladders and colorful brooms outside for the daily sidewalk display.
"You don't want to know what types of things accumulated between these walls over 60 years," Man says, imitating the dimensions of unnamed creatures with an impressive space between his two pointer fingers. "But if we can keep the doors of this store open for even half the time our predecessor did, I'll be satisfied."
Everyone thought Man was crazy when he first told them about his idea. A few still do, but since the opening day a few months ago, a steady flow of people step in to compliment the owners on their boldness and bravery.
So how does one come up with such a wacky idea? Man explains that he first saw the brooms in a small village in northern Thailand when he was there searching for a furniture store he owns in Atlanta called Straw. "I import furniture from the Far East, mainly Thailand, because of the quality of the work there. And while I was looking around, I happened to see some Thais making these brooms," Man says. "I liked them so much that I brought my wife Maya with me to look at them too."
That was the beginning of the story. At the time, Man had just decided to return to Israel with his wife and three children after 22 years in the US, and was looking for a new business venture that would succeed here.
Born and raised in Nahariya, Man left on the traditional after-army backpacking tour and never returned. "I landed in Washington, D.C. to visit family and I fell in love," he says, straightening a bright green, long-handled broom with a delicate lavender inlay. "I lived all over the East Coast - from Florida to Baltimore to Philadelphia - but I missed Israel and wanted to come home."
The store, Hamatateh, which translates as "The Broom," carries everything from hand-held miniatures (great for dusting computers or car carpets) to kid-size sweepers to adult models. The idea behind these unique, hand-made brooms is that they combine elegance with functionality.
"People usually try to hide brooms, but the added bonus with these is that they have a leather hook on the end so you can hang them from the wall as decorative pieces and then take them down whenever you need to sweep," Man says.
And, he insists, they actually work. Hand-woven from tiny pieces of straw, the natural fibers are more effective at gathering dirt than the synthetic fibers used to make most brooms, and their bamboo handles are incredibly strong. "People sometimes think our brooms are only for decoration because they are so attractive, but these are how all brooms used to be made and they are much better brooms than the synthetic ones."
The reference to the past is how Man designed the logo: a friendly looking grandmother type wearing an old-fashioned dress with a neatly pinned bun on her head and a long-handled straw broom in her hand.
"These brooms make great housewarming gifts, and we have small ones for children," Man says, adding with a laugh that some parents have noted the motivational benefits for children to clean when they have a pretty broom.
Man's wife Maya designs a number of different brooms of various sizes and color schemes for the factory in northern Thailand, but each one differs slightly from the next. Along one wall of the store, giant photographs depict the broom-making process - from bundles of plain straw into strongly woven bunches affixed around a bamboo handle.
Inside the small store, beneath the soft glow of small spotlights, brooms hang from every nook and cranny and a few bamboo vases decorate the corners. "No two of these brooms will ever be alike," Man says.
Yet, despite being hand-made, the prices, which range from NIS 30 to NIS 150, remain reasonable. And when you consider how difficult it is in Israel to find a decent broom, the idea of having something useful and beautiful begins to grow on you - even if it isn't Halloween.
For more information, visit www.hamatate.com or call (050) 400-2366/67.
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