50-year dime store strives to serve Jewish clientele

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In 1941, 6-year-old Guenther Leopold and his family left their home in Frankfort for Berlin, where they boarded the last train liberating Jews from Nazi Germany. They crossed Russia on the Siberian Express and ended up in the Philippines, where they sat out the war.

"I was a little kid at the time but I remember there was a lot of commotion in Germany," Leopold said. "We were not harassed when we left, but we knew we had to get out of the country to survive."

The Leopolds joined a German Jewish community of about 1,500 in the Philippines, where Guenther went to school and learned Tagalog. But the Japanese invaded in 1942, and the Leopolds were unable to leave for America until 1946.

A year later, the Leopolds settled in San Francisco. While attending George Washington High School, Leopold began working as a stock clerk at Standard 5 & 10's store at Geary and 19th Avenue. He moved to the Laurel Village location when the chain opened another store there in 1949.

Today, he and son Jeff own that variety store, which recently celebrated its 50th birthday. The occasion also marked the 60th anniversary of the former chain, of which only the Laurel Village store remains.

While maintaining its nostalgic, old-neighborhood ambiance, the Leopolds' establishment has changed over the years.

One of the ways is by accommodating Jewish customers in the neighborhood near the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, which is one of its clients.

"When I started, we only sold gold coins [gelt] and candles for Chanukah," said Leopold, a former president of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, where he lives. "But we have added more and more things over the years because, every Chanukah, people keep telling us they want more stuff. People come from as far as the Peninsula and Marin because they know from previous years that we have what they need for the holidays."

Standard 5 & 10 is now affiliated with Ace Hardware, which improves its purchasing capabilities and provides products that enable the store to compete with the large chains. Those chains triggered the demise of Standard's four other stores.

In an era of mass marketing, the Leopolds have continued the mom-and-pop tradition of serving a neighborhood clientele and providing customer service. Since Jeff Leopold joined the business in 1988, the store's volume of Jewish products has increased five-fold. It also extended its hours to 7 p.m. to meet the needs of working people. And the store even has a Web site: www.standard5n10.com

"Our store is unique in the sense that it is a family-run business, which means we control our product mix so we can easily make decisions to incorporate products for Jewish customers," said Jeff Leopold, a San Franciscan. "For example, we don't have a huge selection of everyday cards, but we have increased our stock upon request to add cards for bar-bat mitzvahs, weddings and bereavement. Last year, Hallmark took the Jewish celebration cards off our stock list, but I made them redo the list and put them back on."

The store also remains competitive by providing a reliable supply of the most popular toys. Guenther Leopold read about Beanie Babies in the Wall Street Journal before the trend had reached the Bay Area. He started placing orders before the toy's manufacturer stopped accepting new vendors. This year, Pokemon and Bones are the toys generating the most sales.

Beyond toy sales, the Leopolds say the store stays successful because much of its inventory is based on seasonal needs. During Chanukah and Passover, for example, the owners say they provide more holiday products than any other general-merchandise store in the city.

"Because we are a variety store we can adjust our product list with the seasons," Jeff Leopold said. "Mainstream retailers throw up a few Chanukah cards and gift wrap every December, but we carry eight feet of holiday cards on our counter and another eight feet of products including gift wrap, bows, tags, books, activity toys and decorations. You don't get that at the Wal-Marts of the world."

One of their more unique Chanukah gifts is an apron with rows of menorahs on a blue-and-white background. And when Pesach arrives next spring, the store will have a display of novelty-type kosher-for-Passover candies to provide Jewish customers with another dessert option at their seders besides the afikomen.

"We only carried Manischewitz candies this ye