Small [business] is beautiful

How Jerusalem’s small businesses are surviving – and even thriving.

Cafe Ephraim on Alosorff Street in Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cafe Ephraim on Alosorff Street in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel is often described as a nation of small business owners, and while in many areas of life, including business, bigger is often considered better, small businesses and the personal touch of the shop knowing the customer’s preferences and needs can offer a more interesting experience than a larger store or a chain store can provide.
My local neighborhood of Rehavia, in particular the main thoroughfares of Aza Road and Herzog Street, is replete with small shops and businesses that provide it with a homely feel. In addition to supporting small businesses, frequenting such establishments means that the owners often know you by name, know what you like to buy and ask after your family.
While in the past Rehavia seemed to have a disproportionate number of bakeries and hairdressers (or at least it appeared that way to me!), over the last couple of years it seems to have become a lot cooler with more bars opening up.
One such bar is the aptly named “Wine Bar” at 28 Aza Road. The bar opened two and a half months ago and is the fifth place owned by the Machneyuda group of restaurants and bars. It is open every day from 5 p.m. until the last customer leaves, and on the weekend (it’s open on Saturday) from 11 p.m. until the last customer leaves! While it is currently only open from the late afternoon onwards, Nir, one of the owners, informed me that in the future it will also be open in the mornings for breakfast, coffee and cake.
The bar is designed in a typical European classical style with Italian influences, and offers a wide range of wines, both Israeli and international, to suit every taste and budget. The bar also offers cheeses and sausages from all over the world, as well as a range of homemade jams, fresh focaccia, salads and sandwiches made on the premises. While the decor is perhaps more what one would imagine finding in Europe than in central Jerusalem, Israelis certainly seem to have embraced the place, as it’s usually packed.
A completely different type of business, but one with a personal touch (both literally and figuratively) is Sigaliot, the beauty salon, at 21 Herzog Street. Run by Sigal, a former bookkeeper who decided to make the switch from the office environment to a more aesthetically pleasing world, the salon offers a wide range of treatments including manicures, pedicures, facials and laser hair removal.
When Sigal was fired from her job during the second intifada, she saw it as an opportunity to explore a different field, and having always found pleasure in experimenting with nail polishes and different beauty treatments, she decided to sign up for a nail-building course. She found this both easy and enjoyable, and she started receiving customers in a small room in her mother’s house. Things took off quickly, and Sigal began working in a small clinic, moving to a hairdresser when the first place closed. In addition to perfecting her beauty treatments, at the hairdresser she learned vital skills such as how to run a business, and this led her to feel that the time was ripe to open her own salon. While she started off small, Sigal’s clients began to ask for a wider variety of treatments, such as pedicures, facials, permanent makeup and eyebrow styling, which she happily learned in order to offer these services.
I first stumbled upon Sigal’s salon approximately six years ago in its first location, a small shopfront on Mitudela Street, and since then I have been a loyal and satisfied customer. Sigal has moved locations twice since then, as her business has expanded, but she has always stayed in the Rehavia neighborhood. About a year ago, she moved to her current location, which is much more spacious and offers a higher degree of privacy for her customers.
In addition to providing a high level of service and quality, Sigal is genuinely concerned with providing her customers with the best treatments to make them feel special, and although her clients now number in the hundreds, she still knows all her customers and their preferences. My taste in nail polish veers towards the more conservative colors, which Sigal knows, and she therefore takes pains to make suggestions that suit me. She clearly loves her profession, and it shows in her level of care for her customers.
Sigal is also a caring and attentive person who always offers to lend an ear, so even if you have a bad day, after being pampered and taken care of at Sigal’s you will leave feeling like a million dollars.
Another relatively new eatery on the Rehavia scene is Cafe Ephraim at 8 Arlosoroff Street, which opened a year ago and underwent a renovation and revamp in April of this year. Cafe Ephraim is a small, cozy kosher coffee shop run by Ephraim and Moriah, who opened it out of a love of people and food, and a wish to combine the two. Cafe Ephraim offers a wide range of dishes, including breakfasts, salads, sandwiches and specials such as veggie burgers and stuffed vine leaves on the weekend. All the food is prepared on the premises, with the exception of the bread, which comes from the Russell bakery in the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
I have been to Cafe Ephraim several times with friends, and every time I go there I am impressed by the level of care and attention to detail that Ephraim and Moriah offer. I have never seen such vibrant and colorful salads with delicious sweet potato chips sliced so thin. I was even inspired to upload a photo of the dish to Instagram, which I have never done before! While Moriah admits that running a coffee shop is not easy and requires putting in long hours to ensure that the food is fresh and of the highest quality, she finds it immensely rewarding, particularly when the same customers return and are as pleasantly surprised by the food as if it were their first visit. One of the best compliments that Moriah and Ephraim received was from a couple who said that whenever they visited the coffee shop, they felt as if Moriah and Ephraim were hosting them in their living room, rather than in a coffee shop! Another unique small business, albeit not a newcomer on the scene and slightly further afield in Emek Refaim, is Barbara Shaw Gifts. Barbara Shaw made aliya from Australia 30 years ago and was looking to work in retail, but couldn’t find a job. With a background in fine arts, archeology and business and a desire to fill a niche of providing gifts that were bright, bold, fresh and well-designed, she decided to commission designers to make dish towels and aprons, which she started selling at fairs.
After a hiatus, during which she worked in hi-tech and then returned to Australia for several years, Shaw opened her first store in Jerusalem in 2008 with a line of bold-themed kitchen textiles. She has since expanded to include designs on ceramics, serving ware, wood, glass, stationery and Perspex as well as offering a distinctive range of baby gifts, a Yiddish line, Jewish wedding gifts and signature aprons. She likes practical, useful items and her designs, which fuse the ancient and the modern, are inspired by Jerusalem and her heritage. While Barbara admits to not being a designer or an artist, she has lots of ideas and works with designers to translate her ideas into workable designs.
Having expanded to three stores (in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ra’anana), Shaw takes great satisfaction in being able to provide people with a livelihood, and employs around 14 people ranging in age from 21 to 67 who come from all walks of life and religions. She has a workshop in an industrial area in Jerusalem and works with companies that employ disadvantaged youth.
While Shaw derives great pleasure and inspiration from having a store in Jerusalem, she admits that she is concerned about the proposed plans to introduce the light railway in Emek Refaim, having seen the damage that it caused to businesses downtown. she is vehemently opposed to the plans.
“Clearly, the obvious solution is to run the light rail where the train used to run. This would cost less and cause less disruption in terms of time and business. Running the light rail through Emek Refaim would ruin the character of the suburb and city, and destroy most businesses along the street that could not sustain the building disruption for the years it would take to build. I and many businesses I know will simply close. The only reason for moving to Emek Refaim is that powerful residents along Harakevet Street are concerned that the values of their homes will decrease, and have lobbied the mayor. That is a fact.”
As befits a small business, Shaw aims to offer a unique experience in her stores and derives great satisfaction in the fact that her products are supplied to all leading Jewish museum stores worldwide.
I went to Barbara’s store when I needed to buy a present for my friend’s newborn son and found some some adorable babygros, which were original and quirky (like my friend), good quality and beautifully wrapped.
“I aim to be part of a new, confident Israeli style that has been merging of late in all fields of design.
Naturally I draw from the ancient sources. However, I want to develop designs that are fresh, bold and sassy. I am looking for a new idiom, with up market packaging. I would like my products to have an international look, yet with the feel that says, this could only have been produced in Israel. I want to design and make beautiful, useful everyday objects that are a pleasure to give and a delight and surprise to receive.”
So if you want to receive a unique, more personalized experience, whether in eating, drinking, being pampered or buying one-of-a-kind gifts for friends and family, visit the small businesses in your neighborhood instead of the behemoth chain stores. Not only will you receive more attentive treatment, but you will also help sustain small businesses, which are part and parcel of Israeli life.