Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018

How Chanukah gets lost in the rush of holiday shops

Hanukkah decorations and gifts are placed in the Avital Barnea apartment in Washington, DC (Mary Mathis / For The Washington Post)

When she left Montana to attend university in Minneapolis a decade ago, Avital Barnea knew she would join a larger Jewish community than the 30 families who supported her synagogue in her hometown of Billings. She also hoped that once Hanukkah had arrived, she would have the choice to shop for holiday decorations and gifts that went beyond the cards and menorahs sold in the small souvenir shop in her temple.

Near a University of Minnesota, she asked where she could find Hanukkah cards and wrapping paper. Nobody knew.

"They would take me to the store and say," Maybe it's here, maybe it's there, "said Barnea." They could not find it. "

It turned out that only one target in the Twin Cities area had an inventory of Chanukah. So Barnea opted for a generic card – "Happy New Year" or something like that, said – and gave up.

Tradition teaches that more than 2,000 years ago, the Jews celebrated the victory over a cruel king and the re-inauguration of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem. The story goes that a small amount of oil, used to illuminate the Temple Menorah, burned miraculously for eight days.

But many Americans who buy Hanukkah products every year find it hard to find enough to keep one.

This is especially true for Jews who do not live near shops selling Jewish ceremonial art, also known as Judaica, and who use large retailers or online stores.

Even before the end of Halloween, most retail spaces have Christmas decorations that fuel a multi-billion dollar market every year. Yet, many stores only stock a few shelves of Hanukkah products – a touch of blue and white inventory in a sea of ​​red and green. According to Adobe Analytics, items purchased between November 1 and December 6 and bearing the name "Christmas" or "Hanukkah" account for about 1% of these purchases.

In addition, Hanukkah products are usually sold at the same time as the Christmas season, although Chanukah dates change every year and can start as early as November. (This year, Hanukkah started on the evening of December 2nd and ends on the night of December 10th.)

Analysts and retail buyers have their theories: retailers know they will not see the huge profits generated by Hanukkah sales; they have little interest in storing a range of options. In the United States, merchants usually start at the same time. The Jewish population in America is also more prevalent geographically than in recent decades, making it more difficult for stores to focus on inventory in specific neighborhoods.

But there are signs of progress. This year marks the first time that Target stores Hanukkah merchandise in its 1,850 stores across the country. The company reviews sales data and collects feedback from store managers and buyers to determine which inventory would work best in each store, said Target spokesman Joshua Thomas.

Nevertheless, Hanukkah still confuses the retail trade. Rabbi Chaim Mahgel-Friedman, co-owner of the Judaica Afikomen store in Berkeley, Calif., Said supermarket, pharmacy and convenience store buyers "often miss the mark" by placing Hanukkah orders too late in the season.

"They did not order the felt in time for Hanukkah and it's like," Oh my God, we missed it! Is not it always Christmas? Said Mahgel-Friedman, referring to the chocolate pieces offered to Jewish children during the festival. "This year it's definitely not Christmas. It's a line of articles that is not at the forefront of most people's consciousness. "

Barnea, for example, stated that after her move to Washington in 2011, she was delighted to find Hanukkah cards that she loved in a papyrus – but she found them only after the end of the holidays.

One morning in late November, options were rare in the district stores. At a Michaels home, a reporter asked if the store was selling Hanukkah decorations. A confused employee replied, "Who?

Another employee said, "It's just ribbon. You want to see it?"

That's how it started a walking tour of Michaels' Christmas inventory – in front of the trees and glittering lights, in front of a Santa's figurine holding a surfboard, in front of a breakage -noisette life size. The employees decided that a set of ribbons, decorated with blue and silver snowflakes, was "Hanukkah inspired". A Christmas song appeared through the suspended speaker: "And put a smile on someone's face / "because it's Christmas every day. "

According to a Michaels spokesperson, about 40 percent of the company's 1,110 stores own Hanukkah stocks. The seasonal assortment is introduced in mid-October. Most stores that sell Hanukkah products have already sold their stock in November, the company said.

Traditionally, mass merchandisers spend most of their Christmas racks on Christmas products, but this year marks the first time that Target has been storing Hanukkah goods in its 1,850 stores across the country. (Julio Cortez / AP)

At a city-wide CVS, there were no Hanukkah items in a Halloween discount candy aisle, self-built gingerbread houses and ornaments "I Love My Chihuahua". An employee said it would take him another week before the store got an inventory of Hanukkah.

A spokesperson for CVS said that the stores supplemented their assortment based on sales and that customers could talk to the product orderers.

A target on the other side of the street had a modest section of Hanukkah, occupying about a quarter of a driveway, in addition to a separate display of cards and a gift wrapping. There were some menorahs, candles and table decorations. These were arranged next to party items: paper towels decorated with David's stars, a balloon-shaped inflatable banner stating "The Chaim" and an apron wearing the balloon. "Schmutz" inscription.

At Bed Bath & Beyond, an employee acknowledged that Chanukah products were confined to "a small section". Nevertheless, the store stocked some menorahs, candles and dreidels, as well as wall decorations, a latke server and a Hanukkah form. Pasta. In addition to menorahs, dreidels and candles, a Washington Walmart sold Hanukkah cookies, stuffed animals, a menorah-shaped headband, and a baby bib on which was inscribed "My First Hanukkah!"

But almost all this inventory has been destroyed by Christmas objects. At Target, for example, most of the back wall of the store had been transformed into a Christmas wonderland, with trees, a bright reindeer and buckets of $ 3 ornaments.

Retail experts say it's ironic that Hanukkah stocks are bundled with Christmas items.

Alana Berman-Gnivecki, manager of the Kolbo Fine Judaica Gallery in Brookline, Mass., Said her store benefited more from Passover sales because the holidays involved more ritual items. Kolbo opened in 1978 and stores Chanukah stocks all year round, said Berman-Gnivecki, with a further boost in November and December.

"I think big-box stores, and only the United States in general, attach special importance to Hanukkah because of its proximity to Christmas," said Berman-Gnivecki. "I think it's a bad understanding of what our important holidays are."

Marshal Cohen, an expert in consumer behavior from the NPD Group, said retailers were seeing more and more Hanukkah sales rise as vacations dropped later in the season.

"When we get closer to Christmas, the holidays are always bigger and better because of the traffic, the impulse and the frenzy," he said.

Berman-Gnivecki and Mahgel-Friedman said buyers do not have the same online shopping experience as if they were going to a Judaica store. But since many communities do not have Judaica stores, the only option is often to connect to the Internet. Barnea said that Amazon is his favorite. Stores like Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond and Michaels have more comprehensive sections on Hanukkah on their websites.

Barbara Tellerman, a radiologist in Columbia, Missouri, said she was doing almost all her shopping at Hanukkah online, due to the lack of options in town. She has a list of websites, ranging from gifts from the modern tribe to Jewish traditions in the kosher realm, to which she turns for ritual items and food all year round. When visiting family and friends in the big cities, Ms. Tellerman said she was always eager to see what their Judaica stores had to offer.

"People take for granted that they can get in and get what they need," she said.

This year, Tellerman said that she relied on online shopping.

Nevertheless, she said that she knew that she could always run to Target or Walgreens, just in case.

"If you're really in a pinch," says Tellerman, "you can still get a box of candles."

Read more:

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