(September 10, 2014 / JNS)
By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
Many observant Jews own a sukkah that they put up every year for the weeklong fall holiday of Sukkot. Renting the temporary structure is a lesser-known option than owning, but is it a growing trend?
The sukkah-rental business is a relatively new space in which the Litton family of Lawrence, NY, is a pioneer.
“We were the first ones to rent sukkahs,” Evan Litton—father of Steven and Jonathan Litton, who run the 15-year-old family business called “Build My Sukkah” (buildmysukkah.com)—told JNS.org. “We were the innovators in that field. There is a small niche market. Whether it is a real trend or not, I’m not sure, but for us, there is small growth every year.”
Renting a sukkah “is for people who don’t have the space to store the sukkah, and for people that are going away from year to year,” Litton explained.
“For example, they are renting a house because they are traveling or vacationing in Miami or Israel,” he said. “Then they don’t have the problems of putting the sukkah up, taking it down, and storing it. Renting alleviates those kinds of problems.”
Some might see renting a sukkah as an option for those looking to go camping during the holiday, but Litton sees no convergence in that regard.
“No, [renting a sukkah] is mainly for people that own or rent a house, and they either want to put a smaller sukkah or a larger sukkah up,” he said. “They may have a large oversized sukkah and this year they want to put up a smaller one. Or, they have a small sukkah and this year they want a larger sukkah because they are having family and friends join them for the holiday. People that go on vacation usually go to a hotel that has a sukkah. Not many people go on a camping vacation using a sukkah.”
Evan helps Steven and Jonathan with the family business, but credits its success to his sons’ ambition and drive.
“I was at work when they were younger and they put up my sukkahs,” Litton said. “Their uncle asked them to put up his sukkah and they started to do it for family members. Eventually they helped their neighbors and expanded it into a business.”
The Litton brothers’ rental sukkahs differ from others on the market because they are “custom sukkahs that we manufacture here in the United States,” Evan explained.
“Most people who rent sukkahs use ones that are manufactured in China and the Orient,” he said. “Many of our customers rent our sukkah and then decide to purchase it because they see the difference in quality.”
The Litton brothers offer rentals, sukkah construction and repairs, and custom sukkahs, as well as lighting, tables, and chairs for the temporary structures. The average rental price starts $275. Renting a large sukkah (10-by-16 feet) costs $550.
“We have expandable sukkahs,” Litton said. “If a customer wants five panels one year, and another five the next, they have the option to expand. The canvas that the large sukkahs are made with has a warranty for five years. The same canvas is used for outdoor furniture. At other places, if you buy an 8-by-12 sukkah, you’re struck with that size because it wraps around as one canvas. Here, it’s paneled canvas, which no other company has. You can expand or contract according to what you need.”
Rabbi Avi Parsons, a teacher at the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Fla., also runs a sukkah-rental business. He said rentals are more common in Florida than they are elsewhere.
“Renting is more of a trend in Florida because more and more people are coming down here to enjoy the holiday and they are not sure where they’ll be next year, so they don’t want to own the sukkah,” Parsons, who is also a salesperson for the New York-based company Leiters Sukkah, told JNS.org. “For these folks, renting is easier.”
Parsons’s sukkah rentals are available in the price range of $400-$700. He said the benefit of renting is that customers do not have to put up or take down their sukkah.
“I also supply them with everything they need, including lights and chairs, so they just come in and use it and I take it out after the holiday,” said Parsons. “It’s cheaper if they do it this way instead of ownership, where you have to take care of [those extra aspects].”
Like Litton, Parsons does not see any common ground between sukkah rentals and camping, but he does offer a “traveling sukkah.”
“Some of the sukkahs I rent have 10-foot poles, which are difficult to travel with,” he said. “[But] the traveling sukkahs are small and inexpensive… Customers use them on trips.”
Jews eat in temporary structures during the harvest festival of Sukkot as a reminder of the booths their ancestors were said to have dwelled in during their 40 years of traveling in the Sinai desert.
“The sukkah is also a powerful reminder of the many reasons for which we feel grateful to God, not the least of which is for the other 51 weeks of the year most of us are blessed to have solid roofs over our heads, clothes to wear, and food to fill our bellies,” Rabbi Elias Lieberman, leader of the Falmouth Jewish Congregation in Massachusetts, told JNS.org.
Parsons said, “It’s a celebration of the harvest, but also remembering the protection God gave us. We all need protection constantly. It is remembering, but also asking for more protection for the future.”