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Big-Box Orthodox: It's Kosher, but . . .

Rosenblum's opened in Chicago in 1941 and advertises itself as "the oldest and largest full-service Jewish bookstore in the Midwest." It, too, is perking up to the competition from Jewel, alarmed by the deep discounts offered by Jewel on tableware and DVDs of "The Adventures of Agent Emes."

"We have to use it as an opportunity to improve our relationship with customers," Sandy Kanter said as she worked on an order for nine dozen personalized yarmulkes for a June bar mitzvah. "If you walk into Jewel and look a little bit lost, someone will come up and offer to help you."

Chayim Knobloch and his wife, Nurit, maneuver around Geulah Ravitch, 3, and her brother Betzalel, 6, in the candy aisle at Kol Tuv Kosher Foods. (Chris Walker -- Chicago Tribune Via AP)

The reality, she said, is that people will shop at Jewel. Already in the supermarket to buy toilet paper and detergent, they'll pick up some kosher sushi -- "and fried chicken, which is really good."

Jewel, whatever its advantages in price and selection, did not make a positive first impression on Devon. On the south side of the street, the company bought space on a huge billboard that towered over the single-story storefronts.

"Opening Soon!" the billboard crowed. "We're Taking Kosher Shopping to a Whole New Level."

Even Yarmove, the Albertsons executive, agrees it was an in-your-face sign. It was a point of differentiation the supermarket did not need.

"Honest to God, and you'll have to believe me, we take billboards out throughout Chicago. It was spotted out by the advertising agency we work with," said Yarmove, talking by cell phone from California, where he was scouting new kosher territory. "It was there for a few weeks. We took it down."

Yarmove said taking out ads in Jewish newspapers was "problematic" because the community was divided on the strong projection of Jewel into the kosher food market. He said a billboard seemed like a good idea and insisted the Devon billboard across from Kol Tuv was the only one available.

Yarmove recalled growing up in an Orthodox home in Cincinnati, where he said it was difficult to keep kosher. His parents drove five or six hours twice a month to shop in Cleveland. He said the Albertsons expansion efforts can be seen as helping Orthodox families.

"People out here are hungry and they're crying to have basic needs," Yarmove said during his California swing. "We're not talking about kosher sushi. We're talking about basic kosher foods. If you don't have kosher ground beef, I can't make sloppy Joes for the kids. These are key components of the dinner plate."

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