With so many Jewish-Americans living in New York City, and with Yiddish being a language that’s still very much alive, one would think there would be at least a few Yiddish bookstores dotting the metropolitan area. But there’s only one—CYCO (pronounced “SEE-koh”) Publishing House, located in Long Island City, Queens, an area that, while not necessarily part of a Jewish neighborhood, is pretty close to one (Williamsburg, Brooklyn).
Big Apple real estate being what it is today means it’s nearly impossible for independent book stores (or even a Barnes & Noble) to survive. Add to that equation an even narrower focus—a Yiddish bookstore—and its solitary existence begins to make more sense. Though it’s no less dispiriting.
CYCO is the publishing arm of the Central Yiddish Cultural Organization, a group created in 1937 as a forum for Yiddish writers to meet and share their work. This work was largely ignored by most publishing houses, so CYCO members did what writers in the same boat do today—they self-published, and in 1948 opened the first CYCO bookstore in 1948 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It would eventually move to several locations over the years before settling in its current Queens home.
The bookstore is now on the seventh floor of a loft building by the Queens Midtown Tunnel; the address is 51-02 21st Street in Long Island City. It’s managed by Hy Wolfe, a native Yiddish speaker from Brownsville, Brooklyn.
According to an article in The New York Times:
“The store has laughably few sales. It is open by appointment only and those hours vary considerably. In one recent year it had 50 sales appointments and took in $11,220, which barely covered Mr. Wolfe’s annual salary.
The shoppers include Yiddish students, Russian immigrants, collectors and Hasidim. They can find books not only by Yiddish writers but also classics like Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” in Yiddish (“Der Alter un Der Yam“).”
CYCO’s website has information on how you can help keep its doors open (even if the doors are only open by appointment); an online list of Yiddish books and CDs (you don’t have to live in New York to buy a Yiddish book); a history of Yiddish; and links on everything from Yiddish periodicals to Jewish genealogy.
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