Nahariya - The story of Israel's disappearing shops

Three stores in Israel's coastal town look ahead to a bleak future.

ISRAEL SHENAR WITH mother Minna.  (photo credit: DIANA BLETTER)
(photo credit: DIANA BLETTER)
Three shops in the seaside history of Nahariya, Western Galilee, will one day close their doors, marking the end of an era that will vanish into history.
Many take the shoe repairman, the seed-and-nut roaster and the independent hardware store owner for granted, but one day – and soon – shoppers will no longer be able to find them.
Israel Shenar is the last of Nahariya’s independent roasters of nuts and seeds (pitzuhim in Hebrew), in the Egged bus station on Nahariya’s main shopping street, Ga’aton Boulevard. His parents, Minna and Yaacov, opened the shop in 1968. The small store carries not only a heady aroma of roasting cashews, almonds and sunflower seeds, but also an air of authentic nostalgia. Mr. and Mrs. Shenar have kept the store exactly as it was when they first opened it, with the same roasting oven (a few of the knobs have been replaced), the same metal trays and tin cans.
The shop recalls a simpler time, said Shenar, when it was a Friday tradition to buy nuts and seeds and then “gather with family and friends to eat them on the Sabbath together, sometimes watching television.” Shenar states emphatically that his roasted nuts and seeds are far healthier than Bisli and Bamba, but people think of cholesterol and don’t buy as much as they used to. Yet the proof that they’re good for you, he said, is that his parents just celebrated 64 years of marriage, they still walk to work at the shop each morning, and they’re still nibbling on the products.
The shop has stayed open continuously since 1968 with only one exception. During the Israel-Lebanon War in 2006, the shop was closed for 37 days. In 1973, a Syrian plane was shot down over Nahariya and the shop windows exploded.
Shenar worked as a travel agent until the coronavirus closed the skies; since then, because he’s an only child, he has returned to Nahariya to help his parents, who emigrated from Romania in 1963. In its heyday, the shop employed five workers and business was booming.
“But it’s only a matter of time,” Shenar said. “One day this shop will disappear.”
Israel Shenar in front of his roasting oven (Credit: Diana Bletter)
Israel Shenar in front of his roasting oven (Credit: Diana Bletter)
On the other side of the boulevard, around the corner from the Zoglebek meat store, is a small cobbler shop where Yaacov Barsky, 56, repairs shoes. Barsky, from Odessa, said that when he was 14, he went to trade school to learn not only how to repair shoes but also how to design them. In Odessa in those years, he said, he would measure people’s feet and make their shoes from scratch. Back then, a shoe designer earned as much as a lawyer. Today in Israel, he said, “people don’t want to be cobblers; they want to be engineers.”
“My work is my hobby,” he said. “People have to find their place in the world.”
Some of the tools he uses in his shop are more than 100 years old, including a vintage Singer sewing machine and German tools to stretch shoes – but only those made of natural leather.
As an aside, Barsky said some people think they can stretch shoes by filling them with water and putting them in the freezer.
“Don’t bother,” he said. “It doesn’t work.”
Gone are the days when people commissioned him to make fashionable pairs of shoes. Today, he said, people buy inexpensive shoes to wear for a month and then throw away.
Barsky arrived in Israel in 1991 and opened the shop in Nahariya. He said he didn’t leave Israel for 18 years until he returned to Odessa to visit. He went to the cemetery to visit his family’s graves and then to see his house.
“But it wasn’t the same as what I remembered,” said Barsky.
While some of his family left for Germany and America, he wanted to come to Israel. His grandfather, a violinist who used to play in Odessa’s theaters, told him that he was fated to come to Israel. He learned Hebrew but still enjoys speaking both Russian and Yiddish, which he learned from his grandfather.
Barsky said that an Arab man from a nearby village still comes to his shop to speak to him in Yiddish, a language the man learned long ago from working with early Jewish immigrants.
Yaacov Barsky shows off a size-48 show he just repaired (Credit: Diana Bletter)
Yaacov Barsky shows off a size-48 show he just repaired (Credit: Diana Bletter)
UP ON the highest elevation in all of Nahariya, in a Jerusalem-stone building built during Ottoman times, is Shmuel Joseph’s hardware shop. The shop is in the historic neighborhood which locals still call the “Ma’abara,” after the transit camp where new immigrants were once housed in tents.
Joseph was born in 1952, the same year his father, Joseph Joseph, opened the shop after emigrating from Romania with his mother, Gila. In fact, after his father died, his mother worked in the shop until she was 91. Although she passed away three years ago, her wooden chair still sits in one corner of the shop, under an old black-and-white photograph of her husband when he served as a Romanian gendarme more than half a century ago.
Hundreds of items are packed in the crowded store – and Joseph knows where to locate everything, from assorted nails, bolts and screws to razors and wrenches. Some of the old cardboard boxes still have his father’s handwriting; others, for example, come from a metal factory in Netanya that has since shut down.
On a recent Friday morning, a woman came into the store with a photograph on her phone of what she was looking for. Joseph studied the photo, listened patiently the way a doctor might, and then went right to a shelf to find the product. She said she would buy two, one as a spare.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” Joseph asked her. “People buy extra things and then don’t remember where they put them.”
The woman ended up taking his advice and buying only one.
“People could go to a big chain store and get a cheaper price,” Joseph said. “But they come here and pay more because I solve their problems.”
His shop is located up a flight of uneven stone stairs on what used to be the main street of Nahariya, on a road that wound its way to the West before a newer road was built. Joseph’s three children all work in hi-tech and don’t want to run the shop, and when he’s ready to go, he said he’ll sell it all to whomever wants it.
The last generation. A cobbler, a nut roaster, an independent hardware-shop owner. Visiting these shops is getting a final peek at what will one day be part of history, relics of a time that will soon vanish.
SHMUEL JOSEPH points to a box from a metal factory in Netanya that no longer exists. (Credit: Diana Bletter)
SHMUEL JOSEPH points to a box from a metal factory in Netanya that no longer exists. (Credit: Diana Bletter)