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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The school year is winding down and that means preparation for summer camp is speeding up. Need duffle bags? Laundry bags? Goggles? Shirts, skirts or pants? Murray Goldwag, better known as Murray the Sockman, is making his way around the New York/New Jersey area selling everything kids need for camp at school and shul sales. Next one up is Sunday, June 11 at Ahavas Israel, 181 Van Houton Avenue, Passaic.

That’s not the only way to find Murray. He’s busily stocking shelves and racks at Kosher Sox, his store in South Fallsburg, New York, now open for the season. And you can buy products on his new website: www.murraythesockman.com. Wherever you buy from Murray, you can get a 10 percent discount on purchases of $99 and above with the code JLink10 until June 30.

Murray the Sockman’s name could easily be Murray the Everything-for-Summer Man. At Kosher Sox, there is a wall full of socks for boys and girls, and brands of women’s tights known for being well fitting and run-resistant. But you wouldn’t believe how much merchandise of all kinds is displayed in the cozy (ok, packed) surroundings. Boys dress shirts and pants. Women’s and girls’ skirts and tops. Linens and table cloths. Bathing suits, hats and non-leather shoes you can wear on Tisha B’Av.

“We listen to what our customers want and that’s what we bring in,” Murray said about his merchandising strategy. “For clothes, my wife Meryl chooses styles she likes and listens to what our daughters and customers suggest.” Values are good at Murray’s but price isn’t the only consideration. “You can get cheaper duffel bags from the competition but ours come back from Israel and theirs usually don’t,” he quips.

About those kosher socks. It all started in 1987 when Murray rented his first store in South Fallsburg. One year later, he rented another store on the block that had been an ice cream parlor. Instead of purchasing a new sign, he kept the “Kosher,” took out the “Ice Cream” and added “Socks.” Voila! The sign in front of the building became Kosher Socks, or Kosher Sox as printed on the other side. He bought the building in 1989.

Murray began his business career when his friend Saul Gold, who owned a mom and pop shop, thought Murray should try his hand at selling a batch of ties he had bought. Murray sold the first batch and reordered more. “I saw the beauty of selling,” he said.

After receiving a master’s degree in math, he spent two years getting certified as a high school math teacher. He moved to Ellenville in 1974 to teach. In 1977 he began selling suspenders in bungalow colonies, capitalizing on the popularity of TV characters Mork and Mindy. “I made enough to pay the yeshiva bills,” he said. The family moved to West Hempstead in 1984, a move he called a major plus for the family. “I raised four religious kids, and my son Ari became a well-known entertainer and singer. That wouldn’t have happened if I had stayed in the Catskills.” Now three of his four children have made aliyah and he and his wife live most of the year in Israel. He returns every summer to Far Rockaway, where the son who didn’t make aliyah lives, and to the Catskills.

“The store continues to be successful, Baruch Hashem,” said Murray. When Amazing Savings first opened 15 years ago, he worried that it would take a bite out of his business. Yet that summer saw the biggest increase in sales. So when Saverite became his neighbor, he wasn’t concerned. This summer, a new clothing store is opening nearby. He’s not worried about that, either.

What has affected business for all store owners is the internet. “Last year was tough,” he admits. “John the UPS guy told me, ‘You can’t believe how much I’m delivering to the colonies!’”

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Murray’s daughter Melissa and her husband, Gaby, designed a website with an online store that went live last month. The Murray the Sockman fundraising program is migrating to the internet as well. Shuls, schools and camps that register get a unique code and receive 10 percent of the revenue from customers who shop using the code.

At 72, Murray has promised Meryl that he will slow down a bit. But not too much. He still enjoys schmoozing in the shop and at the shows. He reminisced about the day he sat in front of the store on Route 42 with his friend Alan Hirsch, owner of the Country Views weekly, waving at his friends walking and driving by. He turned to Alan and said, “Between me and you, we know everyone in the mountains.” That’s a lot of customers.

By Bracha Schwartz