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Steven and Jonathan Litton

Rachel Bachrach

The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY

Thursday, September 20, 2018

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What we do

We manufacture, and sell or rent our own line of succahs, and we’ll even build them for you! A Litton Sukkah is a hybrid of what you usually see; it’s a paneled succah made of Sunbrella acrylic material. Many feel it’s the real kosher model because of the material’s tight fit to the frame.

 

How we got started

We’ve been building succahs in the Five Towns for more than 19 years. From the moment we were able to pick up tools, we were helping our dad build our family succah. That job eventually transitioned into ours alone, and that somehow began to include helping our neighbors build their succahs. Before long, we were putting up the entire town’s succahs, and we called our business “Build My Sukkah.” From there, it was a natural progression: we saw that too many customers’ succahs collapsed because of design flaws, or they found themselves chasing them down on a windy day. That’s when the lightbulb went off: let’s create our own. We kept a list of what we’d incorporate in our design by studying the mistakes and flaws of others, and now we custom manufacture these succahs in our own line. We like to say ours is the last succah you’ll ever need and the first succah you’ll really love.

 

The research phase

When we started to think about engineering our dream succah, we studied the others on the market. Others are too heavy or aren’t as stable in the wind or are prone to rusting in the rain or cracking in the sun or are hard to maneuver or don’t lend themselves easily to being expanded or made smaller or don’t sit well on uneven ground — we could go on!

 

Building materials

This is not your standard canvas succah — Sunbrella is a marine-grade acrylic that’s weatherproof and easy to maintain, they use it on boats, awnings, and outdoor furniture. Our frames are heavy-duty steel baked with powder coat paint, and the stainless-steel legs are adjustable to accommodate uneven surfaces. That’s a design feature we’re really proud of, the legs you can level. Most people have a spot for their succah on blacktop, wood, tile, plastic decking, dirt, grass, or concrete, and a paneled succah often can’t be erected correctly because of the ground’s various dips. Ours can be adjusted; each panel can be its own height so your succah will be level regardless of the ground. See why we love it so much? And that’s just one feature! Basically, our succah is strong and durable and lightweight and compact, and you can add or remove walls year to year without causing engineering issues.

 

Busy season

It starts in August and goes until after Succos. There’s a short window of time between Rosh Hashanah and Succos to erect a succah, and most people wait until the last few days. Some go up earlier, though. Last year a client called three months before Succos for a succah on her penthouse rooftop in Manhattan, 20 floors up. We were curious why she wanted it so early. She told us, “My husband passed away last year and he so enjoyed the succah, I wanted to spend time in it during the hot summer months and remember our last Succos together.” We were so sad for her! We built the succah for her in June.

 

All around the year

The months from one Succos to the next move quickly. We purchase raw materials and start manufacturing in the dead of winter. Steel fabrication takes months: ordering, cutting, welding, sanding, and finally, painting. The frames are put through a special oven to bake so the paint won’t chip off. And we test our self-leveling stainless-steel legs to make sure they’re well lubricated and can move properly. It also takes months to complete panels: we begin by cutting doors, windows, screens, and plain panels from rolls of Sunbrella fabric. Then we move to the sewing process: stitching everything with industrial thread. If completed panels aren’t within one-eighth to one-sixteenth of an inch of tolerance, they’re rejected, because if the stitching is off, the panel won’t fit the steel frame correctly. Once they’re approved, we put them through a grommet machine and apply stainless steel grommets. The fabric is drilled onto a frame, and each panel is tested to make sure it fits the frame tight, like a skin on a drum. And that’s not to mention marketing — in the winter, we plan ad placements, e-mail campaigns, web, and brochures. All this takes months! As we move past Pesach, we’re already taking orders for the upcoming season. We start packing and crating orders for out-of-state or different countries, and we prepare the paperwork and shipping documents. We walk and talk succahs all year long, every chance we get — just ask our friends and family.

 

Innovative succah solutions

We had a customer with a wraparound deck and we followed the path of the deck when constructing the succah, building almost an octagonal-shape succah. Another time we were asked to place a succah in a backyard — two-thirds of the succah was on the grass, including a bed of bushes. We leveled the panels for the grass and incorporated the bushes into the succah; they made a nice decorative touch. Another time a restaurant asked for a design and configuration that included a coatroom in the succah, and they wanted the succah to be attached to the building’s rear door so you’d feel like it was a part of the restaurant.

 

Complicated succah setups

The time we put up a succah on the rooftop of a New York City apartment building in 50-mile-per-hour winds, or at the Chabad of Boulder, Colorado, when we had to shovel snow off the sechach on Erev Succos. We can work in any kind of weather, but it’s particularly difficult when it’s stormy, cold, or very hot. One year, there were a few days of rain, and then came a nor’easter. We still had 75 succahs left to erect, and only two and a half days to do it. We surf, so we put on our wetsuits, we bought ponchos and boots for our employees, we all wore snow goggles — and we got to work. People stared and smiled as we did our job, but we got all the succahs up before the chag. —

 

In Brief: Popular fabrics Our Midbar model, which is a sand color, seems to be the favorite, maybe because it blends well with the color of many houses? Some customers go for stripes or patterns. Recently we came up with a fern color, almost forest green — we didn’t realize it would be so popular — but we now stock it among our favorites. This year we have a new light tan with a hint of orange that’s selling well.

 

Largest succahs…  We’ve installed succahs for shuls and JCCs and Chabads that are 50 feet long and 20 feet wide. Our succahs are also available to rent for a simchah or if you’re usually away for the holiday and need a one-time succah. The largest private succah we constructed was in someone’s driveway, 20 feet by 75 feet.

 

…and smallest An elderly gentleman in Far Rockaway wanted one on his walkway. We erected a four-by-four succah.

 

Most memorable gig Hands down, it was the succah for Amare Stoudemire, a former NBA star and current wine manufacturer in Israel. He needed a custom extra-tall succah at his penthouse in downtown New York.

 

The experts’ take on:

warm climates

Full-screened succahs or succahs with many windows allow for breezes and cross-ventilation. If you’re getting fabric, we recommend light colors, which don’t absorb as much sunlight.

 

sechach

It needs inspection every year, because even with the same manufacturer, quality can vary one year to the next due to changes in climate conditions where the sechach is grown.

 

lighting

Outdoor fixtures need to be able to withstand the elements. The industry recently moved to LED lighting, but we find that they dim and are unreliable, so if you can find the old florescent fixtures, those are best. For an added touch, the string lightbulbs from Costco are especially nice since they give off a warm light. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 728)

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