Every Friday morning, I walk one block from my apartment to our local makolet (literally, the grocery) to buy challot and a newspaper. Two weeks ago, after handing my credit card to Roni, one of the two managers of the makolet, another customer came to the counter to pay for his purchase of milk. Realizing that I too needed a container of milk, I handed back my credit card to pay for the milk. “Do you have the 5.5NIS (about $1.50)?” he asked, but I had only brought my credit card. “No problem,” said Roni, “just pay the next time you come in.”
While other cities have small neighborhood groceries in the form of bodegas or 7-Elevens, the warmth and trust found at the Israeli institution known as the makolet seems to me to be the very essence of this tiny neighborhood grocery that at times feels more like an extension of my family’s refrigerator and cupboard. It simply has everything any time I need it.
From daily baked and delivered bread and rolls to varieties of milk, eggs that are fresher than those at the larger grocery stores, candy and chewing gum, cakes and cookies, laundry detergent, coffee, sugar, cereal, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, wine and arak – you name it and you can find it at the makolet. An integral part of every neighborhood, the local-one-block-away makolet lacks only the items one can buy from the neighborhood yarkan (green grocer).
Our neighborhood makolet sits on the corner of Reuven and Derech Bet Lechem. It has been owned by a neighborhood family from Morocco since perhaps the 1960s, according to Roni, who rents the makolet with his brother-in-law, Itzik. Roni first came to the makolet about 30 years ago to help his father who was working there. He expected to stay only two months, but has yet to leave. Itzik has worked with him for the last 15 years. Itzik previously had his own larger grocery store in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bayit Vegan, but because of growing competition, he had to close the store and came to join Roni.
Each Sunday through Friday morning, Roni or Itzik opens the makolet at 6 a.m. On Sunday through Thursday evenings, they close it at 8:30 p.m. On Fridays, the makolet closes about one hour before Shabbat, leaving all of us bereft of the items we may have forgotten to purchase before Shabbat.
Because the small store is always so well-supplied, the bread fresh and the dairy products unexpired, I wondered how this is possible. Itzik said that whatever is not sold goes back to the company that brought them the products.
Roni added they stock only a few of each item. However, unable to pass on the cost benefits from the purchase of large quantities, Roni and Itzik charge more than the grocery stores. For the consumer, the convenience is worth the extra shekels. For example, at the beginning of December, when we were without a refrigerator and I had the idea on a Thursday night to make cholent for our Shabbat lunch, my husband, Irv, headed to the makolet to buy barley and beans. He easily found them at the makolet.
Although there are other stores from which we can buy our challot, the variety and quality at Roni and Itzik’s makolet are always well-appreciated by us and our Shabbat guests.
As Itzik puts it, “On Fridays in Israel, the smell of challah is everywhere,” and it is at the makolet where that aroma converges with the warmth of a friendly community, a neighborhood family – and even an extended refrigerator and cupboard.