click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




The God Store

The God Store

The spirituality of retail.

by

Want to feel God's loving involvement in your every day life?

Open a store.

That's right. One of the most spiritual things you can ever do with your life is to go into retail.

I went to school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the late 60's and early 70's the Lower East Side was the Mecca of Jewish life in America. Hundreds of shops -- nearly all of them of the "bargain" variety -- hustled and bustled their wares to throngs of Jewish customers from anywhere and everywhere.

There was no Gap, no Circuit City, no Wal-Mart. If you needed a suit, you came to Rivington Street, a new transistor clock radio, you went to Canal Street or Delancey, a pickle for a nickel, Hester Street, a Hathaway shirt, Orchard Street. That was the place to go, to see, to ‘hondle,' and to be seen. Every day, every shop, every interaction was a new and exciting adventure. It was incredible.

But my favorite location was actually a rather obscure street -- Allen Street. It was known for only one commodity -- neckties.

There must have been 20 shops on Allen Street, and all of them sold the same neckties.

Now I was no tie freak when I was a teenager. So what drew me to that unsung boulevard? It wasn't the ties at all.

I never actually counted, but there must have been 20 little shops on Allen Street, and all of them sold neckties. All of them! I kid you not. Not only that, they all sold the SAME neckties! Same colors, styles, fabrics, patterns -- and all for pretty much the same price.

I remember times when I would walk over to Allen Street from my high school and just stand on the sidewalk and watch, as people sauntered by the shops and occasionally entered and made a purchase. I would wonder to myself, "What made someone choose to walk into one store rather than another?"

There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for it, since they were all pretty much the same. When it dawned upon me that perhaps the ‘x' factor was the service people received, I personally visited some of these establishments and found no perceivable difference from one store to another -- same grouchy and grumpy reception.

That's when I felt a Heavenly Presence. Who else could be guiding those tie-less customers into each store? Although we all possess free will and each customer did indeed choose the store he wanted to patronize, there seemed to be no compelling reason to select one store over another! To me, the only plausible explanation was that they were being personally herded by the Almighty's invisible hand.

So anytime I needed a spiritual lift, I just zipped up my parka, headed over to Allen Street, found a good spot, and waited. Invariably, I saw God quietly at work.

TUNING IN

I am no longer in high school and life's incredible theater has certainly afforded me an orchestra seat in observing God in full Technicolor. The actors change, the sets may vary, but the Director always leaves His mark. What a thrill it is to sit back, munch on some chocolate covered raisins, and watch the performance we call Life. If you are really tuned in, the show just never seems to end.

Until recently, my family's vocational pursuits were exclusively rooted in the professional domain; psychotherapy, teaching, writing, and lecturing. Certainly, these and nearly every profession, afford the participant ample opportunity to see the hand of God at work. But, to my surprise and delight, we have discovered a new and potent path to the divine connection.

Five long weeks ago, my wife and I (mostly my wife) opened The Shell Station -- Brooklyn LLC. We sell women's and kid's tops. The business really belongs to my daughter and son-in-law. They started it two years ago in New Jersey and now they convinced us to make a few bucks and open a branch in Brooklyn.

Word is getting out and people are starting to come. With God's help... who knows? The store is open on Sunday plus two nights a week and my dear wife mans the controls (and the register). Me? Well, the customers are all women and I, kind of, don't really belong. So far, I cut open the boxes after hours, bring out the trash, and do the bank thing. But I do find other ways to be involved.

Some may think that there can be no pursuit more mundane than retail. I'm finding out how far from true that is.

Every once in a while, when life seems glum, when the mundane eclipses the ethereal pursuits, when the milk is spoiled and the kids dent the car, I zip up my parka and go for a walk. Two minutes later I'm on Avenue L, across the street from The Shell Station, in perfect view of the Heavenly stage. And I watch. They come and they go. Some pass the store and never look up. Others give a glance and a shrug and shuffle on to other theaters. And some turn the door knob and enter the play.

I close my eyes and I see Allen Street. I laugh. No, I'm not 16 any more. And there aren't 20 Shell Stations on Avenue L. But the picture is still very very clear. Yes. People still exercise free choice and decide where to shop, and whether and how much to buy. But there are so many shops to choose from, so many styles, colors, and fabrics to consider, and a wide price range to reckon with. How are all those consumer decisions really made? I can't help but believe that somewhere, in the great beyond, a Guiding Hand is involved.

Some may think (as I did) that there can be no pursuit more mundane than retail. I'm finding out how far from true that is. Every purchase, every advertisement, every decision -- placement, pricing, policy, labeling, location, lighting, ambience, and timing -- is saturated with the will of God. It is He who guides. It is He who provides.

The actors have changed and the sets, indeed, have varied. But the music is still stirring something deep within my soul.

The Director is always leaving His mark.

Published: November 17, 2007


Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 19

(19) Lilly, March 2, 2009 5:02 PM

God is always in control

I read your article, I too am from Bklyn, and I absolutely remember the streets and shops you mentioned. What memories, we use to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge to go shopping, or just walk around and hang out. Thank you so much for this. My God continue to bless you and your family

(18) Elana, December 31, 2007 11:21 AM

The director is the only one who wkows the path

It might be today or tomorrow or a week from know but we eventually get a calling from all mighty letting us know what it is we need to do in our lives.
He guides us and corrects us when we stray.
We need to keep our hearts adn souls open to hear and feel. WE must not forget to prey adn thank him each day.

(17) Anonymous, November 22, 2007 3:29 PM

G-d's Hand in other professions too

I can tell you, that G-d's Hand was at play in my professional life as well. In my experience, I have been involved in projects that never made it to production, but G-d is there to make sure I earn my bucks, to keep the paycheck going. He takes care of everyone's needs, retail or not.

Your article is great,I love it.

(16) Michele, November 22, 2007 8:23 AM

Enjoyed the article!!

(15) Anonymous, November 20, 2007 7:53 PM

man alive


it's a great example to always be open [at every age] to new opportunities.,may we all be blessed to experience those pleasures of vitality, awe and gratitude.
in a retail example it seems to me man's individual free will is allowed greater free reign, and divine interference would be rare. in this area there are real and understood reasons why people buy what and where they do[even when as in example same price, quality etc]
.i do believe that the almighty does supervise this world. [and each breath we take is from him] at the same time i don't see it as the author - i beleive he truly sees it that way so maybe i need to look differently or, maybe we are both correct or not.man will have challenges to grow but when and where and how God intervenes seems unclear. what is the price paid when he does? do we become further removed from him and less able to emulate him? is that the price when we[Jews in particular and thru their example, humanity as a whole] fail to use our free will correctly,and a miracle needs to be brought down to put the world back on course


See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub