The Hassidim of the Consumer Electronics Show

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Ideal Sales.jpg

LAS VEGAS -- Walking around the CES showroom floor, there is one specific cultural group that stood out to me. (No, it was not the booth models.) A surprising number of Hassidic Jews seemed to be exhibiting at and walking around the show.

When I wondered about that out loud on Twitter, a variety of New Yorkers told your humble West Coast lifer, "Duh, that's because of B&H." Apparently, B&H Electronics was founded and continues to be run by Hassidim.

"Known as 'Beards and Hats' because of the many Hasidic Jews who work there, B&H has become an authentic New York experience," the Associated Press wrote in 2006. "Shopping there is akin to ordering a pastrami on rye at Katz's Delicatessen."

The AP continued: "Ask how business is going and you get this: 'Baruch Hashem,' or 'Blessed be God' -- meaning, roughly, 'Thanks to God, things are good.'"

Like any successful company, some of its employees have gone on to found their own competitors and variations on the theme. So, now there are several electronics distributors run by Hassidic Jews that are here at CES.

I stopped to chat with Asher Shtesl, the CEO of one such company, Ideal Sales of Brooklyn, New York. They're a classic middleman operation: they buy from the manufacturers and they sell to independent electronics stores. They've long focused on photographic equipment but have been expanding their reach into more general electronics. Shtesl said he's built his business from a basement operation 10 years ago into a "multimillion dollar" enterprise now.

And how does being Hassidic impact the business? "People look at us as very honest people," he offered.

Image: Shtesl is flanked by his salesmen Joel Fischbein (left) and Leo Kish (right).

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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