Shifra* needs something for her home. It could be a lamp, a food processor, a new coat, or a car. Where will she get it? Does she zero in on getting the best possible price, whether online, at a department store sale, or from a business in another city? Or does she first consider giving her business to someone in our community? Does it matter? Is there a right way and a wrong way to buy things? What do customers have to say? How do retailers feel?
The Customers Say…
When I am writing an article, I often ask random people I meet during the day what they think about the topic that is currently on my mind. This time their answers differed widely. “I always look for the place I can purchase the product I need for the least amount of money,” said Ron,* an accountant of my acquaintance. “My decision of where to buy is not based on anything other than the best quality for the best price.” I was a surprised at his unequivocal tone and strong position, but I think that it is probably an answer that many others would give as well.
Another acquaintance, Tova,* had a different response: “I always prefer to give my business to a member of the community in Baltimore, as long as the price and service are reasonable. If I can help with the parnassa of a fellow community member, why shouldn’t I?” She adds, “I don’t know if this is exactly the same thing, but I remember learning that the highest form of tzedaka is to help a person earn a living and that our first obligation when it comes to tzedaka is the members of the town where we live. Wouldn’t shopping in the store of a community member be part of that?”
The Retailers Say…
To find out how local store owners feel, I spoke first to Sora Tansky,* the wife of a Baltimore rebbi. “My husband is a popular rebbi,” she explained, “and he runs a business to supplement his teaching salary. Obviously, it is very hard to bring up a large family on a rebbi’s income. People who choose to come and shop in our store are helping us with our parnassa, which we certainly appreciate. I think they should be proud to do that.”
Perel Brown,* who sells clothing, says, “I feel very strongly that a person should shop in the community as much as possible. If you shop at a local store, the money stays in the community and will go to support other local businesses. In addition, a person who works for a school, a shul, or an organization in Baltimore is paid by the community of Baltimore, so they should feel an allegiance to this city.”
Chaim Jackson,* who sells vacuum cleaners, also cares about this subject. “When you support local businesses run by community members, the money you spend gets pumped back into the community. On the most basic level, if you come to my store and purchase my product, I will be able to pay more tuition for my children, and the schools will have to do less fundraising. But on a more sophisticated level, we, business owners are the ones who are called upon to support many other organizations in town. Whenever there is an event, such as a Chinese auction or a dinner, the local businesses are asked to sponsor the event. It has to be reciprocal: We support the mosdos of the community, and the community supports our business. Sometimes, when I am asked to donate to a cause, I feel like saying, ‘Why don’t you ask Amazon, from whom you buy your vacuum cleaner, to donate to your organization!’”
Why Not to Buy from a Friend
There are factors other than money that account for the reluctance to buy from someone we know. Rivka,* for example, is uncomfortable shopping in a friend’s store. “I am worried that I will feel pressured to buy even if I don’t find anything I like,” she says.
Binyomin Belsky, owner of Sleeptime Mattress, says, “I know that many people feel uncomfortable, so they avoid coming into my store, but I want to tell them that they shouldn’t be embarrassed. I don’t bear a grudge at all towards people who come in and look at my mattresses and then do not buy from me. In fact, I appreciate that they chose to look at my store first.”
Another local business owner who sells an expensive product also responds to Rivka’s dilemma: “People think they can avoid embarrassment by avoiding businesses owned by their friends, but they really can’t. Even if you don’t come into my store, I will notice if you have acquired the product that I sell and I’ll know you didn’t buy it from me. But don’t worry, I understand that I cannot meet everyone’s needs, and I don’t take offense if you choose to buy somewhere else. I agree with Mr. Belsky, and I also appreciate it if you come see what I have to offer before shopping somewhere else even if you don’t end up buying my product.”
Shlepping to Save
Some people argue that the products are cheaper and there is more variety out of town, so they go there to shop. However, as Mrs. Blumi Weil, the owner of Shell-li, says, “I provide basically the same variety, quality, and price as the stores in Lakewood and New York, but there are some people who just want to go to another city to shop, no matter what is available here. I don’t understand why they would rather pay $60 for gas and tolls in order to save two dollars on a shell, but that is the way it is.”
Mrs. Devorah Goldstein, who used to work in a women’s clothing store says, “In people’s minds, the grass is always greener on the other side. They think the clothing is cheaper or better in another city, but it is not always true. I myself once bought a beautiful top in Lakewood, and when I came back to Baltimore it was actually three dollars cheaper here. Besides, buying locally means that if there is a problem it is easier to go back to the store to return or exchange it.” In addition, a local store gives more personal service and may even have you in mind when ordering their new stock.
Mrs. Rivka Tide,* explains, “I think people should shop in their own community if at all possible. If we want to have convenience of stores and services here, then we have to patronize those businesses. If we don’t, they will not be able to survive. The reason some things may be less expensive in another city is because they may sell in greater volume and have lower shipping costs. It is not because the merchants in our town inflate the prices just to make more money. Shopping locally helps our city.”
Mrs. Paulson* says, “Shopping locally applies even to bigger purchases such as weddings. Even though making a wedding in Lakewood may be less expensive because of its proximity to New York and the much higher volume of weddings that take place there, when a family makes a wedding in Baltimore, they have the merit of giving parnassa to many local vendors, and besides, it is much more convenient for their guests.”
The Internet Monster
One of the largest and most convenient places to shop in the year 2016 is online. The convenience as well as the immense variety of products available is mind boggling. It is difficult for any local business to match what the internet offers, and shopping online has the added advantage of not even having to leave your home. Some consumers attempt to combine the benefits of in-person and online shopping. They go to a store, check out its products, and then return home to order it product online and save some money. But, as Rabbi Dovid Castle writes in his book To Live Among Friends: Laws and Ethics of Everyday Interactions (page 332), “You are forbidden to pretend that you are interested in buying or selling something when you are not. Some say this includes even just looking at merchandise as if you are interested in buying it, but have no intention of buying it.”
It is indeed very tempting to shop online and get an easy bargain. Sometimes you can even get the product delivered to your home in one or two days with free shipping. Despite all the perks of online shopping, however, keep in mind that the one thing you can’t get when you purchase from a big online retailer is the privilege and merit of supporting a fellow Baltimorean.
I want to encourage my readers to make the extra effort to shop at local Baltimore businesses even if it costs a little bit more. I will feel that I accomplished something with this article if all my readers would resolve to ask themselves one question before making a purchase, going out to eat, or using a service provider: Who am I supporting with my money?
Our community is a big circle, and we all benefit from supporting each other. It is a mitzva and it can help all of us financially. It also has the more subtle but no less important benefit of creating greater harmony and achdus.