October 5, 2006
Sheinkin Street meets superhighway
Sheinkin Street is not what it used to be.
At least that's the common sentiment among those who remember the street's heyday in the late 1980s to mid-'90s, when the neighborhood was Israel's bohemian center -- hip, funky, free-spirited, and on the vanguard. It is often dubbed the Soho of Israel, or, in L.A. terms, Israel's answer to Melrose. But in the last decade more commercial fashion chains have moved in, and the young, rebellious artsy crowd flew south to Florentine.|
But Michael Simkin, CEO of C-Do Networks, who describes himself as a "little Jew from Liverpool," believes that Sheinkin still retains enough of its eccentricity and bustle to perpetuate its mythic status.
"Sheinkin is a symbol of what is going on in modern secular Israel," he explains, sipping coffee at a Sheinkin cafe. And he wants to share those qualities with the rest of the world, so he's created a Web site: www.sheinkinstreet.com.
Offered in both Hebrew and English, the site is an "e-street" -- part magazine, part online community, as well as event guide, map and online shop -- and it may be the first of its kind for a single street. Ironically, the site has turned Sheinkin into brand name by highlighting its noncommercial icons: fashion boutiques, street jam sessions, the tattoo parlor, the record shop and the generally weird people walking around, particularly the Breslav Jews, who have made a hub for themselves on the street.
Simkin made aliyah to Israel about two years ago from Great Britain because, he said, "here I'm just a human being, as opposed to a Jew."
His offices these days are right off Sheinkin, and his staff is quickly becoming Sheinkin lore. Video and photo director Arnon Maoz strolls around Sheinkin almost daily to make punchy clips about the passersby, shoppers, celebrities, shops, store owners, and landmarks that have made Sheinkin the legend.
"Oh, it's you again? The Sheinkin Street people?" store owners sometimes say, with more delight than annoyance. The "Sheinkin Street people" remind them that the locale is still cool, even though so far the site has generated more online publicity than online business for them.
Sheinkinstreet.com is an experiment, a news-oriented way of doing e-commerce, but the one-stop information and shopping center may be a risky business strategy.
"We broke the rule in terms of Web sites, which says either have an information site or business site, but not both," Simkin says.
Indeed, the mix of elements can be a bit overwhelming: The boutique and designer shops on Sheinkin can serve as a unique online warehouse, particularly to Jews abroad eager to "try on" Israeli trendiness, but the effectiveness of the virtual shop is easily trumped by magazine content. Since its launch in May, over 120,000 unique visitors have visited the site, but less than a dozen online purchases were made.
Simkin is not too bothered.
"I treat my business somewhat as an artist," he says. His philosophy is to bring reality to the Internet, and he sees "reality Internet" as the next trend in cyberspace. He cites Google Earth as one example of literally bringing one location to cyber users' fingertips, but he goes further by focusing on one location.
Once he nails down all the kinks, he plans to set his lens on the streets of the Big Apple for the big buzz and bucks.