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“Where’s the family loyalty, where’s their upbringing? Support them five years in Israel, bring them home to a royal welcome, and they slap you in the face!”
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
"I n my own family!”
Shifra Feldman threw blueberries and chia seeds into the smoothie maker and watched them churn and roil under the blade. The mixture turned purple as it rose in the glass.
“It’s like a situation from one of those magazines: ‘Dear Rabbi, I don’t speak to any of my sisters-in-law,’ one of these nebachdig families that can’t hold itself together. Where’s the family loyalty, where’s their upbringing? Support them five years in Israel, bring them home to a royal welcome, and they slap you in the face!”
Daniel sipped his coffee, then put his mug down and played with the toast crumbs. “Shifra, it’s a different market. They’re selling last season’s middle-to-lower-range brands. The community is huge, developments are growing every month. There’s a market for any well-researched business in Lakewood today.”
“Market, shmarket. We’re in the shoe business. The last thing our kids do is open up a shoe business. The town is going to gossip like there’s no tomorrow.” She turned the blender off, and the kitchen was filled with a silence that oozed cold fury.
Daniel closed his eyes for a second, then reopened them and reached for a bentsher.
“You got to be wrong about this one, Yos,” Tirtza said. “I don’t think it’s even possible for your mother to be upset. We’re not selling the same thing. We aren’t even aiming for the same consumer base — we’re not in the same neighborhood.”
“They’re both shoes,” Yossi pointed out, his tone neutral. He was sitting in the cramped basement of the starter home his parents had so attentively furnished for them, surrounded by boxes of seforim and toys just arrived by ship from Yerushalayim. Sterilite boxes tottered in a pile in front of him.
“Your parents sell adult shoes. They have one kids’ brand, maybe two? Their cheapest shoe is a $79.99 hand-stitched crocodile leather. We’re selling kids’ shoes, at the other end of the market. It’s just not the same product or the same clientele.” She refolded a pile of tiny pale pink onesies and placed them carefully into the Rubbermaid bin at her feet.
A few piles later, she asked him, “What are we doing about a name?”
“Fabulous Footwear,” Yossi said. “Kids’ Shoe Haven. Shoe Shed. Shoo Zoo. Shoo For You. Shoes for Less.”
Tirtza laughed. “Corny. You know that, right? Today’s stores are all one word names. Sharp.”
“Uh, Shoe. Shop. Shooz. Or maybe, I got it! Sheap! You know, like a play on words from Shoe and Cheap.”
“Or, you know what else?” she thought aloud. “We could do an old-fashioned, reliable name. That could go for this. Yossi’s Shoes? Tirtza’s Shoes?”
“Not Yossi’s. Maybe Shimon’s Shoes? I’ve heard of people naming businesses after their kids. Then when they get older…”
He’s excited, Tirtza thought, even as she shook her head and pretended to throw a teddy bear at him.
“We could just go for Feldmans’ Shoes,” she said.
“Sounds okay,” Yossi said. “Feldmans’ Shoes. Yeah. Okay.”
Winter blizzards blew across Lakewood and winds billowed onto reddening faces on the route from house to car. One freezing day in early December, outside a Newark warehouse, Yossi and Tirtza tied their scarves and hurried back to the coziness of the car. Inside, the laughter bubbled out between them.
“I can’t believe the guy,” Yossi began, just as his phone beeped with the incoming invoice from the wholesaler they’d met.
They looked it over. The prices of last season’s shoes were ridiculously low.
“The small-sized girls’ loafers are amazing,” Tirtza scrolled to the picture and details again. “Great colors, really nice look. In the bigger sizes we ordered less, a bunch of the schools don’t allow colored shoes.”
“Mmm,” Yossi said, setting Waze and following directions out of the unfamiliar streets. He was still smiling.
“You enjoyed it?” Tirtza asked him. “Or you’re excited to begin?”
“I just like the whole thing,” he said. “That we’re going to be able to sell these shoes for normal prices.” He merged carefully onto the parkway and checked the time. They had to pick up the kids from three different places before 3 p.m. “We have three kids in shoes, some people have eleven, know what I mean? So they don’t get out of the shoe store without spending $900. By us it’ll be less than $400.”
“Not everyone is going to King of Shoes, buying their toddlers Italian leather as-seen-on-the-catwalk Mary Janes, for $90,” Tirtza pointed out. “There are price ranges in between, and malls, and outlets, and sales.”
“When I grew up, that’s all there was.”
“In your house, I’m sure. But there’s space in the market for all standards and pricing. We get kids’ shoes at good prices, we get customers.”
“I’m telling you, we help people out too. That’s what I like.”
Her hands were shaking on the steering wheel. Shifra turned on the heat and breathed in and out as the windshield defrosted. Daniel was working in his home office today, but boy, did she need him. Without stopping to call, she turned the car sharply away from King of Shoes’ sparkling window display and drove home, arriving in Daniel’s quiet sanctum with her breath steaming.
He looked up and raised his eyebrows. “What happened?”
Shifra shoved the advertisement across the spotless desk till it rammed into her husband’s laptop.
Cautiously, Daniel picked it up. The offensive page stared up at him, in all its glory, and for a moment he was nonplussed.
Then it clicked. “Whoa. Feldmans’ Shoes, huh?” He shook his head from side to side.
“Can you believe it?” Shifra said. Despite the warmth of the room, she was shivering under her fur shrug.
“It’s big.” Daniel said, and Shifra felt something being released inside her. She sat down on the leather chair opposite Daniel’s big one, leaned back and closed her eyes.
When she opened them a minute later, her husband was quiet.
“I never imagined such a thing,” Shifra burst out. “Feldmans’ Shoes? Feldman? Everyone knows us as the Feldmans who are in shoes… for our kids to use our name and ruin it with their trash? How could they?” (Excerpted from Calligraphy, Pesach 5777-2017)
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