Tired of running the day-to-day business of her online store, ModernTribe founder and owner Jennie Rivlin Roberts did something she calls unorthodox: She sent out an email blast and posted on social media to find a buyer.
She took the search public after trying the typical process of hiring a broker to find people. Rivlin Roberts said she got a couple responses that way, but they weren’t the type of buyer she was hoping for. And the response wasn’t close to what she is getting as a result of her social media appeal.
“The response has been overwhelming,” she said in an interview Thursday, June 23. “I’ve had two calls this morning, I had a call yesterday. I’m sad I didn’t do it earlier.”
Rivlin Roberts said that success came from going to her customers to find a buyer. She’s optimistic she will get written offers soon.
“There’s like 10 different parties I’ve been in contact with since Monday,” she said. “Several of them are customers. Some of them have met me at Jewish functions over the years, and I’m so excited. People are excited about the idea of owning ModernTribe.”
The online Judaica store specializes in fresh and modern products. Rivlin Roberts expanded into a brick-and-mortar store in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood but closed it in March after two years. “It was this huge undertaking in terms of stress,” she said. “It’s a physical experience.”
After nine years, running the website also is beginning to drain her. “I’m tired,” Rivlin Roberts said. “I really want to step back and take some time off.”
She is looking for a specific type of buyer: one who will make ModernTribe her own but have a passion for the fundamental mission of the store. “It’s for the new generation of American Jews. It’s about mind-set — the idea that it’s open, it’s welcoming.”
Part of Rivlin Roberts’ ModernTribe vision has always been Jewish education with a welcoming atmosphere, and she hopes that will continue after she is gone. She worked hard to keep her physical Judaica store warm and open to all and has kept that brand online. “Whether it’s gay Jews, intermarried couples, people who come to Judaism from all walks of life — that’s the basic core of what I think ModernTribe brings to the table. It is a place that is appealing to people approaching Judaism from many different places. I hope the person has that appreciation and wants to continue that.”
Rivlin Roberts explained that one driving force behind her original business idea, besides the desire for better holiday decorations, was the uncomfortable feeling she got walking into many Judaica stores. She wanted to avoid making Jews who were not necessarily traditional in practice or mentality feel that way in her store.
Rivlin Roberts noticed in her physical store and at festivals that people would stop and ask questions about Judaism. She loves that ModernTribe has sparked an interest in Judaism and learning.
“I think it has so much to offer the world in terms of meaning and ritual and being a guide for how to live our lives a meaningful and purposeful way,” she said. “Treating other people with kindness and compassion and healing the world. For me, it was being open and loving and offering good customer service, treating people fairly. It’s all part of me processing my Judaism. I’m hoping whoever takes over the business shares that love.”
Rivlin Roberts is excited about what the new owner can bring to the table. “They have new ideas, fresh ideas, fresh passion. It makes me feel so great,” she said about some potential buyers she has spoken to. “It’s my baby, and I love it. It’s been nine years, and I’ve done so much with it. I’m interested in other business ideas and areas I want to work in. I’m ready to make a change, and hopefully they’ll take it in the direction that I started, which is creating a fun, open, modern Jewish lifestyle brand.”
Rivlin Roberts plans to work with the new owner for a year as a mentor, providing support and demonstrating processes and systems. She also will offer the knowledge gained from “so many setbacks,” she said. “In fact, I would love to do a talk on all the lessons I learned over the years. There’s no better learning than building a business from the ground up because you’re involved in every little piece of the business. I’ve made so many mistakes.”
She has spoken to some interested parties in Georgia, so ModernTribe might remain an Atlanta-based company with appearances at festivals and other local events.
“I want to thank the Atlanta Jewish community for all these years of support and customers and partnering — we’ve partnered with so many people doing so many fun things,” Rivlin Roberts said. “I want Atlanta to know I’m really looking forward to whatever it is I’m doing next and always looking for people who have interesting ideas, who maybe want to partner with me and maybe do something exciting.”
She has some ideas she hopes to work on — after some much needed vacation. “I love that leadership development piece. I love teaching. I love urban development. Atlanta is going through a major transformation — that’s part of the reason I was so interested in being downtown. I don’t know what I’m going to end up doing. Before I do anything, I’m going to let myself dream a lot.”