- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2005

NEW YORK — Every morning except Saturday, the buses stop at a bustling corner of Manhattan, and bearded men in dark suits and felt hats, some clutching prayer books and speaking Yiddish, step onto the sidewalk and disappear into a brick building.

But this is not a yeshiva or synagogue. This is B&H; Photo-Video, one of the biggest and most famous camera stores in the world.

On any given day, 8,000 to 9,000 people pass through the front door a block from Madison Square Garden.

Known as “Beards and Hats” because of the many Hasidic Jews who work there, B&H; has become an authentic New York experience. It is a loud and frenetic scene that involves fast-moving lines of customers, all pushing and elbowing to reach the cash registers. Above the bearded cashiers, conveyor belts move merchandise from one counter to the next.

“I live in Minnesota, and the sensibility is not always Midwestern,” said Alec Soth, a photographer with the legendary Magnum agency and a B&H; customer for a decade. “It’s a little more abrupt. But they’re cheap, and they have a huge selection.”

For many, the store has become indispensable. If you can’t find it elsewhere, B&H; probably has it. When NASA needed a rare lens years ago, it turned to B&H.; Executives refuse to discuss sales figures at the privately held company.

Asked how many cameras B&H; sells every year, Herschel Jacobowitz, the company’s chief information officer and business director, replies, “How many quarts of water are in the Hudson?”

Ask how business is going and you get this: “Baruch Hashem,” or “Blessed be God” — meaning, roughly, “Thanks to God, things are good.”

One indication of B&H;’s success that cannot be concealed sits in the Brooklyn Navy Yard — a nearly 200,000-square-foot warehouse that feeds its online division, which represents about 70 percent of B&H;’s business.

B&H; began in Lower Manhattan in 1973. Since moving to its current location in 1997, B&H; has expanded rapidly, advertising aggressively on the radio. Already, B&H; has outgrown its giant store. By April, B&H; executives hope to double the retail space.

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