Teaneck, New Jersey, was probably one of the first communities to shut down. Right after Purim of 2020, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (RCBC) asked everyone to stay home to help prevent the spread of Covid. It was weeks before Pesach, families with children were stuck at home, and many parents were not working.
Before the pandemic, Cedar Market’s sales were done mostly through walk-in shopping, although we did offer home delivery. Overnight we went from filling twenty [home delivery] orders to 120—sometimes even more than 150 a day—which flooded the system. Deliveries went from 15 to 20 percent of our business to nearly 90 percent once the pandemic hit.
At the same time, shortages were becoming apparent. Brands we were able to secure all along were suddenly not available. All of this put a major stress on our operation. To complicate matters, we didn’t have an e-commerce website; customers submitted orders by sending a shopping list via email but we had no way of communicating to shoppers what products we had on the shelves. We did know how to service customers; we just had to figure out ways to be creative.
Pesach 2020 was a very stressful time. It was too chaotic then to build an e-commerce website, so we turned to social media, utilizing Instagram stories and videotapes of our shelves to showcase available products. Communication was a priority—our customers were able to WhatsApp the store and receive instant answers. For a few months during the peak of the pandemic, our staff would come in at 6:30 or 7:00 am and sometimes stay until 2:00 or 3:00 am. They wouldn’t leave until all the orders were filled. There were times when employees had to take on the responsibilities of two or three others since so many were out sick. Our purchase team turned over mountains to obtain products that customers requested, even if we didn’t sell them prior to Covid. The answer “no” didn’t exist. We never turned down an order. As long as customers submitted their orders within our time frame, we made sure they got the delivery before Shabbos.
Fulfilling our customers’ expectations created genuine loyalty—in fact, a year later, we still retain a large portion of email shoppers who had never ordered from us before the pandemic. We also earned customer trust, as well as new customers, because of the strict protocols we had in place for in-store shopping. As a result, we are currently in a better financial state than we were prior to Covid.
Yes, chasdei Hashem, our business did well, and we even won an award for our handling of Covid-19 from Progressive Grocer, an industry magazine. But we felt others’ losses deeply and we tried to give back to the community in many ways. Throughout Covid, we were in touch with local rabbanim about families who were in dire financial straits—we enabled them to purchase food on their account but did not charge them. The local Tomchei Shabbos placed money in various accounts. Additionally, we distributed gift cards worth thousands of dollars.
We feel we are an integral part of the community. We invest in the community and care about our customers. The outpouring of appreciation received from community members was beautiful. I take zero recognition for myself; it was all due to the dedication of my staff. Looking back, I don’t even understand how we did it.
Yossi Hollander is the owner of Cedar Market in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Sara Spielman is a freelance writer living in New York.