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Lifetakes: Pass the Dish

Chaya Singer

When I saw the sign, I thought I had inserted my lenses inside out

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

When I saw the sign, I thought I had inserted my lenses inside out.

But everything else in the housewares store was sitting neatly on the shelves. I must be seeing right. 

After 20-some years of marriage, my floral Corelle dishes were getting lonely. All that remained were two soup bowls, one salad plate, and miscellaneous, useless serving pieces. As much as they brought back memories of a starry-eyed kallah and intimate, elaborate meals as a couple, they no longer served their purpose. Actually, they didn’t do much besides collecting dust and taking up precious shelf space. 

They’d been through a lot, those dishes. They witnessed shy newlywed smiles, the mashed-banana stage, and the terrible twos, which caused their fellows to shatter into bits and pieces. They also overheard the “the real plate is only for Tatty, go get a plastic one from the pantry” command repeatedly, as disposables gradually but surely made their way into our busy lives. 

As our family was now once again turning into an adult majority and getting a bit better at not dropping dishes at whim, I decided to restock. The deciding factor was looking at my son, almost in shidduchim. Imagine serving a future daughter-in-law — whom I already saw on the horizon — with my favorite disposable ware. Dare I become the mother-in-law with absolutely no class?

After weeks of inquiries, trying to find the best-priced, greatest-service local store, I armed myself one morning with a credit card and made my way to the recommended store. The selection had sure changed since the last time I’d looked into dinner sets. Twenty years ago, dishes were plain, run-of-the-mill. Now, there was state-of-the-art stock. As I looked around, awed at the collection, I saw one shelf, prominently positioned near the cashier, with stock that was decidedly different from the rest. A vibrant sign posted beside it read as follows: “If you like the brand-name and high-quality dishes on this shelf, please visit the store around the corner at… or call…” 

My curiosity piqued, I turned to the young saleslady at the counter. “Excuse me, where do I find this style of dishes?”

Photo: Shutterstock

“Oh, we don’t sell them,” she answered pleasantly. “They’re sold at a new store not far from here. Here, let me give you their business card.” 

When she saw my incredulousness, she explained. After years in kollel, a yungerman was trying his hand at business. But before he opened, he first visited this veteran store. He explained to the owner that although he was planning on stocking a very specific brand of dishes, it might compete with this store. Could they discuss it? 

The owner shook his hand warmly. He took interest in the merchandise the yungerman was ordering and evaluated the niche in the market. Without much ado, he gave him valuable business advice and some of his own contacts. As a final gesture, he pointed to the shelf right near the cash register. The owner told the would-be entrepreneur that he’d empty that shelf and display samples of the new store’s stock. “It’s the best place to advertise because everyone who comes in here is on the lookout for similar items.” 

Did it ever dawn on the owner of the store that doing this may hurt his business interests? That he was stepping on his own toes, but hard?

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