Borenstein’s thrived and followed Detroit’s Jewish community as it moved northwest.
So, you need a book in Hebrew, a menorah for Chanukah or a shofar? Perhaps you just need some advice about building your sukkah? Then, Borenstein’s Hebrew Books and Music Store is the place for you.
Over my years of working with the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, I have seen hundreds of ads and references to Borenstein’s. In the best sense of the word, Borenstein’s is a Detroit institution. In business for more than 75 years, it is the “largest and oldest Hebrew supply house in the Detroit Metro Area.”
Borenstein’s began nearly eight decades of operation when Joseph Borenstein purchased Chesluk’s bookstore in 1946. Polish-born Talmudic scholar and businessman Solomon Chesluk immigrated to Detroit with his family in 1921. He saw a need for a good bookstore and, in 1929, opened Chesluk’s on 12th Street.
Chesluk modestly cited himself as an “old Mocher Seforim (book dealer),” but he was a bit more than just a seller of books (Aug. 19, 1941, Jewish Chronicle). Chesluk was also a recognized authority on the Talmud, Jewish literature and Judaica.
The first advertisement in the JN with the store’s new name, Borenstein’s, appeared in June 1947. An ad two months later cited wares such as “presents, greeting cards, winecups, a big selection of religious articles,” and “electric shavers that can be used in Palestine.” It also added that the store was working “together with the well-known Mr. Chesluk” (Aug. 19, 1947, JN).
Borenstein’s thrived and followed Detroit’s Jewish community as it moved northwest. It moved into a new store on Dexter Avenue in 1953, and soon opened a second store on Seven Mile Road. Joseph worked the new Seven Mile branch and his wife, Rachel, handled the Dexter Avenue store. The Seven Mile store moved to a new location on the same road near Schaefer in 1957.
By 1960, only the Borenstein’s on Seven Mile remained … but not for long. In 1967, the current Borenstein’s on Greenfield in Oak Park opened. The Seven Mile store closed in 1973.
Avrom, the eldest son of Joseph and Rachel, began working at the main store in 1960. He managed the new location until around 1998. Avrom’s brother, Cheskel “Charles,” began working at the Oak Park store in 1975 and is the Borenstein in charge today.
As the store expanded, so did its list of goods and services. One could buy tickets for events at local theaters or the Music Hall, your weekly Detroit Jewish News, or in the March 11, 1949, JN, “unbreakable children’s records for Purim” (Hmm — “children” with “unbreakable?”). In the 1950s, Borenstein’s reminded readers “don’t forget, we send scrip and certificates to Israel.” The store’s latest hot seller is the game of Monopoly featuring Jerusalem. Play well and you’ll have a chance to buy the Western Wall or the Mount of Olives with Monopoly dollars!
Borenstein’s is still a place of Jewish knowledge. In one JN article, for example, Cheskel provided advice about shofars (Sept. 6, 2009, JN). In another story, Avrom gave insight into selecting the perfect etrog, along with a good Jewish joke (Oct. 13, 2000).
Cheskel Borenstein now continues the tradition of knowledge and service to the community. He is a good guy, and I appreciated his kindness as I wrote this story.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.