After 30 years in business, Source Unlimited plans to close

Dave Simon and Fran Hoffman patiently wait in line to purchase items during the first day of a closing sale at The Source. Photo: Yana Hotter

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Thursday marked the beginning of the end for a Jewish institution that has seen more than three decades in St. Louis. Management has announced that the Source Unlimited in Creve Coeur will permanently close its doors.

“There’s been a lot of sadness obviously,” said Rabbi Avi Rubenfeld, manager of the Judaica shop. “I’ve been telling people that ultimately we are very positive in our outlook in general. We try to help people focus on the positive even though people are expressing sadness. We certainly feel that as well.”


Rubenfeld said the Judaica shop had fallen on hard times since the recession and simply couldn’t continue to make a go of it. He noted that it wasn’t just impulse buying that was affected. Even necessities were seeing a drop in sales.

Ironically, it’s a story not unlike the one he’s been hearing from his customers.

“Clearly, the economy right now is just not supporting local mom-and-pop type of shops,” said Rubenfeld. “Unfortunately, a lot of our customers have been coming in [and] I was surprised at how many were saying, ‘Oh, I’ve just closed down my store after 30 years.’ I was surprised to hear how many other people had just done this themselves.”

The Source Unlimited has a long history in town. Originally opened in the late 1970s, the shop was bought by Chabad in 2004, which has operated it ever since. Rubenfeld said sales did initially increase after the purchase, with the business seeing some of its best years. However, he added, margins were naturally thin and Chabad never viewed the enterprise as a profit center. Rather, it worked to keep it open as a service to the community.

“It wasn’t merely a business decision,” Rubenfeld said of the closing. “If it was purely a business decision, it would have been done several years ago.”

Rubenfeld also thinks a shrinking local Jewish community and Internet commerce contributed to the decline.

“The world is certainly changing. You have the option to click a button and have something delivered to your door two days later,” he said. “Without question, I’d say that was probably 50 percent of where most of the customers have been shopping.”

The Source is now selling off its stock at a discount, including the fixtures, a process Rubenfeld estimates will take about two weeks or more. No firm date has been set but the shop is expected to be shuttered within a month at the most.

He said regular customers were saddened by the impending closure.

“We had people yesterday that were literally in tears. We had a box of tissues we were using up,” he said. “We’ve been very heartened by the beautiful outpouring. Very often you are not always aware of the impact you are having on people.”

The aisles of the small storefront, located at 11044 Olive Boulevard, were packed on Thursday, the first day of the sale. Dozens squeezed into the tiny shop and volunteers helped to man the counters to deal with the long lines.

“I’m sorry to see it go,” said shopper Keith Zeff, 70. “It’s always been good to be able to come over here and find those things that I would need to be [part of] Jewish life.”

The Clayton resident was dropping by to pick up some candles and a new tallis.

“Certainly, the convenience of it would be a loss,” he said.

“This is a landmark in the community,” said Julian Jackson of St. Charles, his arms packed with books, yarmulkes and a Havdalah set. “It really grieves me that it’s closing the doors.”

The 38-year-old said the Source had always been a big help in enabling him and his family to uphold the Torah.

“There’s nowhere else we can go instead of online,” he said. “I really wish there was something local. I think it is going to have an adverse effect on the Jewish community.”

Jill Mannis of Chesterfield came by to purchase a shofar.

“If I can’t find something at my temple, I come here,” said the 43-year-old as she examined some stained glass. “I don’t know where else to go otherwise.”

Laurel Heard, 56, was hoping to pick up a tallis for her daughter’s bat mitzvah. She said she didn’t feel the shop was replaceable.

“It’s a tremendous shame,” said the Creve Coeur resident. “It’s been a terrific place to find unusual things that you can’t find in the Jewish temple gift shops and having the resource of Rabbi Avi to answer questions and really direct you to exactly the right thing you need.”

Rubenfeld said that there had been little chance of finding a buyer given the establishment’s long-term unprofitability. In fact, he noted that the only reason Chabad had made the purchase was because the original owners had searched unsuccessfully for a buyer for quite awhile.

Rubenfeld, who has managed the establishment since the organization’s takeover, remains co-director of Chabad of Chesterfield with wife Chanala. He said that the time freed up by the closure will allow him to expand Chabad’s class offerings.

He felt former customers might be moved to sign up for a social or educational opportunity with the group.

“We had many, many people who dropped in not to buy something at The Source but just to have a schmooze and so I’m expecting, not just hoping, that those little inspirational experiences that they had, they’ll commit to doing formally,” he said, adding that he encouraged everyone to focus on the bright side.

“In Jewish philosophy, nothing happens by chance,” he said. “Everything is divine providence. Every action needs to have a positive reaction.”