Memory Avenue

April 4, 2024

As we kick off the pre-Pesach shopping season, we take a look back at the stores that aren’t just stores.

These nostalgic shops have watched Lakewood morph and mature, emerging as an epicenter of frum commerce.

Through upgrades and upheavals, they’ve managed to maintain their small-town, old-time, warm, and friendly feel while keeping current in 2024.

These are their stories.


Rock Bottom

The small-town feel that so much of Lakewood has lost lives on in this all-in-one clothing store.

Once known as “Home of the $5 shirt,” Rock Bottom is as relevant to Lakewood shoppers as it was when it opened its doors in 1999. Back then, there was a need for affordable basics. Its owner, Mrs. Gottlieb, is still as dedicated as ever to bringing high quality and low pricing to buyers both new and old.

Born with Lakewood

Our first store didn’t have a desk. We had a table with a calculator. The shelves were set up very logically, so the store stayed neat.

We maintain the low pricing we’re famous for by keeping our overhead low and being satisfied with lower markups. We don’t carry cheap quality stuff; everything in the store is good quality. Our goal is to keep customers happy and have them come back.

Shifting with the tide

Although the flavor of our dry goods store has basically stayed the same, we’ve added more brand-name clothing and expanded our selection.

Years ago, when everything started getting fancier, I was talking to a dealer, trying to decide whether to order the basic nylon-style tights we’d been selling until then or to upgrade our stock. I wasn’t sure buyers would want the higher-end tights.

“Don’t worry,” the seller chuckled. “It’s going to sell.”

Sure enough, people loved them. Since then, I’ve brought in more brand names and other items that customers have requested.

With a full line of children’s clothing; ladies’ and men’s basics like snoods, nightgowns, pajamas, and shirts; accessories, including headbands, yarmulkes, ties, and jewelry; and Pesach items like dish towels and bibs, Rock Bottom has come a long way from the dry goods store it once was.

Friendly faces

We have customers who’ve been shopping with us for 25 years and others who’ve just recently discovered the store. Many of the familiar faces feel like old friends and not just customers. We welcome all of them and aim to provide a friendly, pressure-free shopping experience.

As a mother myself, it’s hard not to sympathize from behind the counter. When customers miss the return or exchange window, I feel bad for them. I know what it’s like to try to get out of the house with a bunch of little ones. I try to be flexible about the return policy.

Blurb: Unique clientele

We very much appreciate our loyal clientele. Our shoppers are all such nice, good, ehrliche people. My employees love working here because they love the people who shop here.

Blurb: It surprised me that…

I never would’ve thought that boys’ basics would become fashion items. People used to think that boys were so easy to dress, but their pants and even shirts have become fashion items. They have to really fit, and the styles and patterns change just like with girls’ fashion. We’ve brought in new merchandise to meet this new demand, but we still carry the traditional styles for those who prefer them.

Blurb: Best seller

Tights and socks. You can never have enough of them.


Arrow Locksmith

From pre-Chaveirim business to modern-day Shabbos smart locks, Arrow Locksmith has been picking Lakewood’s locks for forty years. A few years ago, owner Heshy Tomor handed his son Chesky the reins. Chesky tells us how it all began.

Born with Lakewood

My father always loved solving puzzles. Locks were his riddle of choice. He befriended John the Locksmith, who had been operating since 1942. When John retired in the 80s, my father bought the place. In those days, Lakewood was a very different place. It was a different time, when everyone knew everyone, and our other-side-of-the-lake Caranetta home was considered chutz lamachaneh.

This was pre-Chaveirim. If someone was locked out, they had no one to call but the locksmith. Once Chaveirim emerged, the business shifted and changed.

Shifting with the tide

Locks are a basic necessity; everyone needs them. It’s the form they take that changes with the times.

We’ve pivoted and work mostly with property managers and builders, repairing and installing hardware, though we still get some emergency calls for lockouts.

There’s been a lot of innovation in the last few years. Intercoms, access control, door cameras, and buzzers all gained popularity in the early 2000s. While the world rushes ahead, Shabbos locks—mechanical combination locks—are still very common in this town.

Modern Houdini

Recently, we got a call in the middle of the night. There was a leak in a nail salon, and water was running into the other tenants’ stores. We picked the lock open and then had to lock it again because the tenants were away.

Police officers were once trying to move a prisoner to a different facility, and they couldn’t get the man out of his handcuffs. When we came down to the station, the prisoner was crying. Thankfully, they were able to get the cuffs removed.

Another case involved a 1940 Cadillac whose keys were gone. Usually, we open cars by running their VIN numbers through the manufacturer’s database. But no records exist for such an old car. We had to impression the key into the lock and custom-make a key.

We’ve gotten calls from Instacart drivers locked out of their groceries-filled cars and picked locks on boats, airplanes, and more.

Blurb: Trends

Smart locks, which users can control from their phones, are taking over the world.

Right now, we’re working on creating a smart lock with a mechanical Shabbos mode. We’re still speaking with rabbanim and getting all the kinks worked out to ensure that the technology will be fully nonactive during Shabbos and Yamim Tovim.

Blurb: A niche industry

From push bars and vertical rods to an endless variety of house keys, there are many, many different pieces of hardware. Even guys who’ve been in the industry for decades tell me that they’re still seeing new things.

“I need a copy of a key” is one of our most common requests.

“What type?” we ask the customer.

“You know, a regular key,” they tell us.

Then they come in and see our wall with thousands of key variations hanging on it, and they understand that there’s no such thing as a regular key.


Creative Kids

Creative Kids serves a unique and special demographic: Lakewood’s teachers, although it’s not just for teachers, and it’s not just for Lakewood. This “adult candy shop,” as customers call it, is a one-stop shop for teachers, therapists, and parents alike. Stocked chock-full of craft materials, prizes, charts, and a varied selection of sensory toys, Creative Kids offers everything an educator can need.

Over more than two decades selling school supplies and educational materials its owners, Isaac and Boruch, have seen what’s changed in frum education and the heart-and-soul dedication that’s stayed the same.

Isaac shares.

Born with Lakewood

As a rebbi, I shopped at the original Creative Kids, run by the Fandel family, from time to time. I remember thinking, This place has so much potential. When I left teaching in 2003, I heard that the store was for sale, and I bought it.

My wife is a teacher, so she has a very good sense of what’s needed. At the beginning, she spent hours and hours on the phone with suppliers in other time zones, asking for samples, bargaining, going through the catalogues, and placing orders, one serial number at a time.

We had one employee working for us. People would fax in their orders, as that was the only method of communication. We had oak tag, backing paper…the basics. We shared our paint order with another store in town that was near us at the time.

There were only a couple of girls’ schools in Lakewood at the time. Daycares were a lot less common, but we saw a lot of playgroup morahs. A lot of our inventory today is based off the thousands of teachers’ requests we got over the years.

Shifting with the tides

Lakewood has changed a lot. Schools are spending more today on bulletin boards, prizes, everything. Things were much more basic a few years ago.

Lakewood used to be mostly centered around BMG. Today, we see a lot more variety, and the orders reflect that. For example, we have over 300 different bulletin board sets in our store right now. Some schools want traditional-style sets, others want funkier, fancier, or fresher. We stock a wide variety to accommodate the diverse demand.

Also, as online shopping became increasingly more popular, our competition grew to include the entire world, and we had to adjust our prices accordingly.

Some things never change

From the beginning, we’ve taken a lot of pride in delivering orders quickly, and we still do. Once, a class was working on a project at 11 o’clock when they ran out of paint. We had a fresh gallon in their classroom by 12.

We have dedicated, insightful employees on the floor who are there to walk all customers through their purchases. That’s how we ensure that as large as our customer base grows, we still provide personal, one-on-one service.

Sometimes, customers come in not knowing exactly what they need. A woman came in to find a specific straw that could help her son with Down’s syndrome drink from a cup. After she found the straw, the saleswoman showed her how placing a pencil grip on the straw would keep it in place, making drinking even easier.

Although we’ve built a website and take email and online orders, we still take phone orders and faxes. Our salesladies sometimes spend 20 minutes walking a customer through the store over the phone, helping them select what they need.

Unique clientele

Educators are our main client base. Unfortunately, many rebbeim and teachers are often cash strapped. To accommodate their low budgets, we hunt down the best rates, and our price tags reflect that. We actually mark down prices when we find better deals.

Another thing we do is offer single items. If a teacher needs three metallic sheets from a 12-pack, or a single 10-cent prize, for example, we’re happy to accommodate.