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"A", an architect who works for a Tel Aviv firm, likes to collect electrical appliances that he finds in the street. He especially likes the washing machines and dishwashers he finds apparently discarded after some failure too expensive to fix. "A" repairs the appliances at home and puts in new parts. So far, his hobby has paid off. At home, he already has two washing machines, a dishwasher, scanner, air conditioner and various other appliances and machines he has picked up off the street. "A" may be an extreme example of smart consumerism, initiative and a developed technical sense, but in recent months he has not been alone.

The open-air markets, cheaper supermarkets, surplus stores, used book and disk stores are enjoying a comeback. After many months of economic recession, the members of the middle class - those whose salaries are not rising but who bear the greatest tax burden - are thronging to them and even comparing prices. Galit Avishai, the chair of the Israel Consumers' Association, says Israeli consumers are not known for their strong consumer awareness. "Our country is a catastrophe in this respect," she says, "but now there is an awakening. The recession is clearly having an effect on the demand for lower prices and more truth in advertising."

According to Yishai, more people are buying today in the open-air markets. "A change in consumer habits should be analyzed from two directions: to see if Israeli consumers are becoming more aware of their rights; and if they insist on buying for less. It is difficult to quote figures, but we know of an increase in the number of people putting off large purchases and moving to the cheaper chains." The question is whether the new habits Israelis are learning now will stick with them after the recession. "The Israeli consumer has become a more aware consumer in the past two years, which have been quite difficult," explains Avishai. "A more aware consumer not only complains after the fact if they have been cheated, but also complains about promises that are not kept and about misleading advertising."

More and more people have chosen to abandon their neighborhood supermarkets in favor of cheaper stores that may be located far from the city center. The SuperSol chain of supermarkets, for example, has 19 cheaper supermarkets under the brand name Hyperneto. Despite the distance from the city, the Hyperneto stores have seen a 5 percent increase in customer numbers in recent months. And sometimes it pays to take the trouble; one can save at least NIS 200 on a weekly shop. For example, the Hyperneto branch located in the Ayalon mall offers many sale items, including many offers of "two for the price of one." These stores allow customers to pay in up to six installments without interest. An even cheaper supermarket is Hatzi Hinam at the Yarkonim junction (see box). However, because of the lack of convenient public transportation, those who most need these supermarkets cannot easily get to them.

In order to purchase inexpensive items at Ikea, Hyperneto or at the low-priced Haviv supermarket near Petah Tikva, one needs a car, the owners of which are usually from the middle and upper classes. For the 47 percent of the households in Israel that, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, do not own a car, the lower-priced supermarkets are still out of reach. For the present, smaller businesses situated in locations viewed as inexpensive are not always able to compete with the larger chains and are forced to close down. Prices in Israel are quite high relative to the average wage - NIS 5,000. A simple sofa, for example, costs about NIS 3,000 and many consumers need to pay in installments in order to buy one. Businesses on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv, commonly known as the "furniture street," cannot enable customers to buy in installment payments, which only the large-volume large chains with their extended credit can do.

Clothing

One of the areas enjoying prosperity recently is that of the leading brand name surplus stores. End-of-season sales in the clothing industry have begun and the Israeli chains offering discounts of 50-70 percent are overflowing with customers. The surplus stores of the Castro chain, such as Castro City at 47 Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, are offering buttoned blouses at NIS 40 and coats and jackets for less than NIS 100. Other branches of the chain are located in Bilu Center near Rehovot, 6 Hashlavim Street in Tel Aviv and in the Tel Aviv central bus station.

Golf-Kitan's surplus store covers an area of about 1,000 square meters on the ground floor of the Dan Design Center mall in Ramat Gan. There, one can find sheets and blankets as well as Golf-Kitan and Sprint (Polgat's surplus brand) clothing at large discounts. A smaller Golf-Kitan branch is located in Kol-Bo Shalom in Tel Aviv, selling khaki slacks of all types for NIS 50, corduroy shirts for men for NIS 50 and children's clothing at 40 percent off. The Diesel store in the parking level of Beit Panorama at 84 Ben Zvi Street in Tel Aviv has Diesel slacks in all cuts and models as well as surplus items by the sports firm of Fila and the Disney brand for children. Clothing by the American brand of Gap is manufactured all over the world and factories in Israel or the territories sometimes win manufacturing tenders. The surplus from these factories is sold at America Haktana at 59 Allenby Street, Tel Aviv, where shoppers can find T-shirts, bras, sweatpants and much more for NIS 15-40.

Crocker surplus items are available at the surplus store at 70 Bograshov in Tel Aviv, and Dan Cassidy surplus clothing is available at Bilu Center at the Bilu junction near Rehovot and at 40 Bograshov Street, Tel Aviv. The Hotza'a Lapoal store on the second floor of Dizengoff Center is offering brand names at discount prices: sweat suits, long-sleeve T-shirts and Levi's pants at prices ranging from NIS 20-100. The store purchases used Levi's for $30.

Appliances

In the area of appliances, it is wise to look at models from previous years, with prices that are usually hundreds of shekels lower than the new models, which are often equipped with unnecessary features. At Best Buy Surplus opposite the Ayalon mall in Ramat Gan, there are many such appliances, but they should be carefully examined for defects caused during delivery. Those who don't like to buy surplus should check into the convenient purchase conditions offered by Shekem Electric, which is offering 15 payments without interest and low delivery prices (NIS 75 in Tel Aviv). It also sometimes offers unexpected gifts, such as a double feather comforter with the purchase of a washing machine.

Another way of purchasing while quickly comparing prices is over the Internet at www.zap.co.il. After feeding the site's search engine with the details of the desired appliance, it will supply a list of Internet shops and prices. The auction sale Internet site Olsale allows customers to purchase appliances at prices tens of percentage points lower than in the shops. After a short registration process, the customer participates in sales at prearranged times. The site allows payment in 12 installments without interest and provides home delivery (www.olsale.co.il).

At the Mahsanei Mahshev [Computer Warehouse] shop at 28 Lehi Street, Tel Aviv, opposite the Ayalon mall, older model computers are available at considerable discounts. For example, a Pentium II laptop computer, 2,300mgz, with a floppy disk drive and CD-ROM disk drive can be bought for NIS 3,200 instead of 9,000.

Furniture and household furnishings

The Ace DIY chain has reported a significant increase in sales. More and more customers are looking to save money and build their own bookshelves, shelving and tables. There has also been a rise of 35 percent in the sales of furniture that customers assemble at home, a 15 percent increase in the sale of tools and a 15 percent increase in the sale of paint. The Nirlat paint chain has opened workshops on home and furniture painting. The chain, established in London in 1993, opened its first Israeli branch in 1996 and now has four branches, in Ashdod, Zichron Yaakov, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Two additional branches will be opened by the end of the year.

Paint Magic has 13 stores worldwide and six in Israel. The stores hold workshops in furniture staining and house painting. At the Rashi Textile store, located at 12 King George Street, Tel Aviv, one can buy Moroccan cushions, bedspreads and curtains at reduced prices. A large cushion, for example, goes for NIS 80. At a very unlikely site for bargain hunters, Kikar Hamedina, an inexpensive houseware shop, Ziv, opened a few months ago offering a variety of kitchen and household items at reasonable prices. The shop also has a used kitchen utensil department offering cake decorating bags, graters, kitchen shears, knives and more, all at NIS 5-20 (72 Heh Be'iyar, Tel Aviv).

Leisure

Last year's computer games by Hed Artzi are available for NIS 50 at Office Depot, Atid Mahshevim and Bug stores. Freak (60 Ibn Gabirol, Tel Aviv) sells computer games at discount prices and has many other bargains. Those looking to save on books can do so in secondhand shops which sell new books at discounted prices, for example at Lotus (99 Allenby, Tel Aviv). Those looking for books in English can find them at Halpers (87 Allenby, Tel Aviv), which has an excellent selection of inexpensive novels of all types.

A record and disk shop offering low prices is Kidmat Eden (40 King George, Tel Aviv) where excellent vinyl records and disks can be purchased at low prices; Hor Shahor (5 Shlomo Hamelech, Tel Aviv) acquires complete collections of used albums and disks, most in good condition, and sells them at discounted prices. In Jerusalem, a reasonable selection of discounted records and disks are available at Hatav Hashmini at 16 Shamai Street. Used vinyl records and disks at prices ranging from NIS 19-40 are available at Balance (6 Shatz Street).

Cheap and will keep you fit

People living in the larger cities who do not have cars constantly encounter the same dilemma. The cheapest stores, where they can save money, are always located at a traveling distance from the city. The large supermarket Hatzi Hinam at the Yarkonim junction is a typical example. It is especially suitable for those who want to make large purchases, and is located an easy 25-minute journey from the center of Tel Aviv. The aisles are very broad, preventing inconvenient traffic jams at the freezers or shelves. At the cash registers there are bag boys and girls and the thought of having to carry all the bags up the stairs to one's apartment is the only negative aspect of the experience.

Prices at Hatzi Hinam are clearly lower. A comparison with the Co-Op supermarket on Pinkas Street in Tel Aviv underlined the difference in the prices even for the most basic staple products. Hatzi Hinam has a good beverage department with a large selection and some very good bargains.