I knew that vendors, especially Arabs, in the Old City shouk (market) like to bargain but I just learned that this propensity to make a deal extends to shopkeepers with elegant storefronts and quality merchandise. As someone with a small retail space of her own, I can sympathize with the merchants' push towards a purchase. As a browser or buyer, I mostly find it irritating and exhausting that so many vendors are explicitly focused on consummating a sale.
So it was when, attracted by some unusual ceramic pieces in a window, I walked into an art and Judaica shop in downtown Jerusalem (the area formed by the intersection of King George, Ben Yehuda and Jaffo Streets...which I'll call Tourist Trap Triangle). The proprietor made savvy use of price tags, affixing them to some but not all items, a tactic that allowed him to employ dynamic pricing.
We started our little deal making dance, in Hebrew.
"Can I help you with anything?" he asked.
"I'm just looking," I said, glad to have learned that phrase in the Ulpan. After a few minutes of admiring some mezuzot by the artist whose was in the window, and not finding a price, I asked, "What's the name of this artist?"
"Karmit Gat," he said.
"Where is she from?" I asked, expecting to hear the name of a region or town, or some extra information about her. I was both trying to figure out if I might find her work elsewhere and get a feel for his enthusiasm for it.
"Israel," he answered, most unhelpfully.
Realizing I was getting nowhere, I finally asked, "How much are the mezuzot?"
"How many do you want to buy?" he countered.
"That depends on how much they cost," I said with an exasperated sigh.
"How much are you willing to pay?" he retorted.
I was tired and thought about leaving, feeling at a disadvantage and not wanting to be ripped off. But I was still taken by this artist's work - she made her ceramic pieces to look as if they were quilts, another favorite medium of mine - and I wasn't confident I'd have an easy time finding it elsewhere.
"Really, how much are they?" I put the ball back in his court.
"180 Shekels ($45) each, but if you buy two I'll do it for 300."
Stalling for time, I asked for the price of the candlesticks by this artist.
"600 Shekels but I give you a good price if you buy them and the mezuzot."
"Well, I need to think about it. I'll be here for a month so I'll come back another time," I said, ready to walk, starting to lose steam.
"Look, business has been slow, and it's almost Shabbat so I'll give you a good price. 250 Shekels for both mezuzot."
"How about 110 Shekels for just one?" I lowballed.
"No, but I can do it for 120."
And so we made a deal. I left, mezuza in hand, feeling more tired than triumphant.