Beloved bagel shop enters new era in good hands

It really can’t be 19 years since Marvin and Judy Lieberman took the risk of their lives and opened their Great Barrington bagel emporium. Marvin, whose real last name should really be “Bagelman” in the tradition of the Middle Ages, said that people told him he was crazy to try it.

Maybe it was luck and maybe it was simply the changing demographics of the Berkshires but the place that one writer called, “the Russ and Daughters of the Berkshires” soon became a gathering place for the young, the old, and the gentile as well as the Jewish community.

One Catholic priest told Marvin that he had been responsible for building bridges between the Jewish and Catholic communities. Marvin loved that. The compliments kept coming. It was the late Karl Lipsky, though, who said something so meaningful to Marvin that the Liebermans had it engraved and put on the wall. The plaque reads, “The Great Barrington Bagel Company is the culinary, social, and political center of the South Berkshires.”

Somewhere along the way, Marvin and Judy got lucky. They made a friend in Steve Picheny, who bought the complex that housed the bagelry and then sold it at a very fair price to Marvin and Judy. In the meantime, the operation grew and grew and while Marvin and Judy worked their tails off or, as Marvin describes it, “Seven days a week, 48 hours a day,” they hired a general manager in the person of Bob Climo, who is as friendly to all of us and took a personal interest in our doings just as Marvin and Judy always have. Bob Climo had a background as a very good chef but he also worked as hard as Marvin and Judy and when the other day, Marvin called me to tell me that he and Judy were selling, the good news was that Bob Climo was buying. This really means a seamless transition for the place.

Now Bob has the weight of keeping it going for all of us on his hands. It shouldn’t be that hard. The catering part of the business is growing every day. Christmas, it turns out, is the busiest day of the year for the Bagel Company. I had always thought it had to be the break-fast at Yom Kippur but it turns out that in the true ecumenical spirit of the place, the busiest day is reflective of the larger community.

We all know that Marvin loves to fish. Maybe that’s because of all the Nova Scotia salmon he sold over the years. But when I asked him what he had in mind for his retirement, he said, “Anything I want to do.” He also told me that he and Judy look forward to eating out in all the other restaurants that people were always telling them about.

Let’s not forget about Judy and her contribution. The beautiful woman always had a smile on her face. As she calls out names in the speaker system they finally installed, there is always the same kindness in her voice as there is in her face. Then, too, there is one of the hits of the place that I am told will continue, “Judy’s Egg Salad.” Try as I might, I can’t replicate the stuff. It has amazing restorative powers that leave one filled with all kinds of vigor.

The Lovely Roselle reminds me that the thing she loves the most about the Bagel Company are, duh, the bagels themselves. She loves the fact that the bagels are not the humongous New York City bagels, but smaller, chewy, tasty bagels that naturally enhance the various toppings that come on and in them.

So, you have to hand it to Judy and Marvin. They have done quite a service to the South Berkshire community and now they deserve a rest. Good luck to Bob Climo and to Marvin and Judy, in all that they have before them. Well done.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/22/14

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