Danville Judaica shop calls it quits after nine years

After nine years in business, the co-owners of L’Chaim, the Judaica shop in Danville, are calling it quits. But they are hoping to find a buyer to take over the store, rather than allow it to close.

This would leave Berkeley’s Afikomen as the only Judaica shop in the East Bay.

“This is heartbreaking; this was really a labor of love,” said Aziza Mara, L’Chaim’s co-owner along with Eileen Velen.

It wasn’t the economy or bad business that propelled the women’s decision. In fact, Mara said, business has grown over the past nine years, with the last two being the best years yet.

Both in their mid-50s, the two have increasing obligations — both family and business — that they say are just too much for them to handle along with L’Chaim.

Velen first asked her friend Mara to be her partner more than nine years ago. They opened L’Chaim in a tiny Danville storefront but then moved several years later to its current location on Hartz Avenue.

To its customers, L’Chaim has become a lot more than a place to buy a menorah or challah cover.

“We feel we provide a big service in the community,” said Mara, noting that when newcomers to the area come to the store, they tell them about their choice of local synagogues.

“A lot of people call us, asking how to find a rabbi who does interfaith marriages, or where can you buy kosher chicken. People think we’re a library or rabbi,” Mara says with a laugh.

And Velen, who came to the Bay Area from Chicago, and Mara, who came from Gibraltar via Israel, can usually help out.

“We’re of different backgrounds and we know a lot, so we can provide a lot of information.”

Mara promised a smooth transition, should a new buyer step forward.

“We have nine years of expertise and will stay on for a bit, so it’s not cold turkey,” said Mara. “We want to pass on our relationships with the vendors, and whatever we know that has brought us to this point.”

If a buyer does not step forward — interested buyers can call (925) 743-8303 — a major sale will begin Saturday night, Jan. 3, and continue through February.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."