Thursday, August 23, 2007

Time Bubble

It used to be so, that every neighborhood had a makolet on every block. Makolet was the word for small, family-run stores that sold most of the goods all the other families on the block needed for everyday life: food, cleaning fluids, candles, newspapers, cigarettes. Sometimes there was a neighborhood greengrocer, so the Makolot didn't sell fruit and vegetables. The family that ran the makolet knew all of their clients personally, and everyone knew them. Often they had a dusty cardboard box with grubby index cards on which each purchase was written, and the bill was paid whenever both sides felt that the time had come. This made it easier to send the seven-year-old to the makolet to buy eggs, bread, milk, sugar and an icicle (that last item was the commission demanded by the seven-year-old future businesswoman), all without the danger of the future-but-not-yet-businesswoman losing the required cash on the way.

Israel had supermarkets in the 1960s, but not that many of them, and many people didn't have cars to go to them nor to shlepp all the grocery-bags from them; in the 1980s many makolots were still thriving. The hyper-inflation of the 1980s somewhat damaged the grubby-card business model, as did the growing pervasiveness of credit cards (although during the hyper-inflation period the credit card companies were stingier with their credit). Still, it was only the arrival of the large malls, sometime around 1990, that killed the makolot: everybody had cars, the gigantic supermarkets in the malls were gutting even the local supermarkets with their lower prices, and the seven-year-olds liked taking their parents with them to do shopping, because of all the other possibilities: why allow yourself to be bribed with an icicle when with a wee bit of perseverance the parents can be bludgeoned into buying yet another pair of Reebok shoes?

In the neighborhood where I live, however, there still are a few makolot. Their business model seems to have adapted. Either they serve the very-old-timers, or they serve the rest of us when we need that one item we forgot to buy at the mall. It also helps that there are fewer makolot left, so they don't compete as much with one another.

This morning I popped into one for a moment. An elderly woman was just leaving, but an elderly man was having part of his social life. He and the proprietor were discussing some other local figure, when the elderly man mentioned the dead brother of the person under discussion. The proprietor - probably in his 40s - had never heard of this, so the elderly man launched into an explanation: "Oh yes, Haim, he was killed in the fighting in the Old City in 1948. Ah, such a handsome young man he was. Blond, blue-eyed - he and Itzik were the two most popular kids in our class, they were quite a pair those two..."

I suppose most of us wouldn't mind being the subject of discussion in some makolet 60 years after our deaths - but there won't be any makolets by then.

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