Just outside Bryant Park’s wintertime ice skating rink, a young Israeli named Oz clutches a basketful of purple and green squares of soap, distributing samples to eager passersby. Meanwhile, a muffled version of Bing Crosby’s “Happy Holiday” echoes through the park’s loudspeakers, reminding visitors that all their wishes should come true “while the merry bells keep ringing.”
From waxen Christmas ornaments to exfoliating Dead Sea slush, Israeli vendors at the Holiday Shops in Bryant Park find themselves as busy as ever, economic downturn or not. And unlike Israelis who manage Christmastime mall kiosks, these merchants claim that they are by no means “pushy” and they prefer gentler tactics when luring New Yorkers and tourists into their shops.
“We’re going to do our best by letting you feel the product,” said Mirit Golon of Sabon, who has been flying in from Los Angeles for the past five years. Her soap store thrives in what she calls “a loving atmosphere,” where she sells a product that customers find comfortingly “addictive.”
Golon does, however, see a bit of a shopping lag in comparison to last year when the economy was stronger. Amir Hershkovitz, who sells sushi dishware and other Asian-inspired pieces, also said he’s having difficulties making a profit while paying high rental fees.
“[Customers] think twice before they buy — they are very careful,” agreed Ohad Pearl, who works at the Pri-El Dead Sea cleanser shop.
Unlike the hard-sell tactics so infamous in temporary Israeli-operated mall kiosks, both Pearl and Hershkovitz feel that they must maintain professionalism, in hopes of attracting loyal customers year after year. Honesty remains key, and Israeli salesmen are quick to tell shoppers when a certain look just isn’t their style, said Idan Gil, from a Himalayan hat company called Nirvana Designs. The vendors also recognize New Yorkers as a different breed of Americans, who would quickly be turned off by pushy demeanor.
“They know exactly what they want — we just give them the opportunity,” Pearl agreed, explaining how personal space is important to New Yorkers.
At Pri-El product demonstrations, customers can choose between lotus, coconut lime, pearl and lavender exfoliating scrubs, and Pearl immerses their hands in sample cleanser under sink water.
“I know it’s a little rough at the beginning, but don’t worry, it’ll feel like a baby’s tush,” Pearl said, as he sealed a customer’s hands with Dead Sea body lotion. “Now imagine this feeling for your whole body.”
Vendors like Pearl find themselves particularly successful because of their inborn Israeli drive to overcome hardship, whether in an economic depression or in wartime.
“Israelis aren’t afraid of a no,” Pearl said. “It’s challenging work, and Israel knows about her challenges, private and political. I guess it’s the spirit of the Israelis — they never quit.”
Aggressive or gentle, Israeli vendors at Bryant Park are certainly persistent. And as she left Pri-El last week, this reporter was definitely not spared.
“How many are you going to take?” Pearl asked jokingly, pointing to the scrubs. “Five hundred?”