February 8, 2010

A Store Closes in Brooklyn Because of a Book, Not Pomegranate

Brooklyn NY…A small mart that was known for its creativity in fruit baskets suddenly closed its doors last week, but the culprit, say food sources, was not the highly successful upscale Pomegranate kosher supermarket, only blocks away, but the mounting “crush of the book.” Fruit Palace on Avenue J was one of those small convenience kosher produce and grocery stores that competed with the larger establishments by extending credit to the hard-pressed middle class. Many stores in the area and especially in communities like Boro Park and Williamsburg keep such black ruled school notebooks with pages of family names where groceries are routinely charged. Sources say Fruit Palace’s book included “a crushing debt of thousands of dollars” that had resulted in a growing accounts payable by the store’s owner. One Boro Park store told a source close to KosherToday that his book was “worth over $26,000.” A worker at Fruit Palace said that customers would frequently drop of checks of a fraction of the debt, “say $100 on a $400 bill.” Still many customers blamed Pomegranate as severely impacting business of local retailers, although distributors and other food sources say that most of the stores “while hurting are pretty much holding their own.” One source said that a well-known kosher grocer told him: “I’m taking home a lot less nowadays but it is still a parnassah (livelihood).”

The families who put charges on the books are not necessarily from the ranks of the poor, say the sources. Many of the poor use food stamps and other assistance. The group that seems most affected by the recession and by the increased costs of living is lower middle class working people, many with larger families. One store owner said: “I always think that they are in a temporary bind, but somehow the temporary never ends.”