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Alya — a Gemach Boutique in Tarzana

It’s a concept that probably doesn't exist anywhere else in America: A store without price tags where the customer sets the price and pays whatever they can.
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August 2, 2023
Photo by Adva Riklin

It’s a concept that probably doesn’t exist anywhere else in America: A store without price tags where the customer sets the price and pays whatever they can. And no, there is no catch. But this is the policy at the Alya boutique in Tarzana.

Imagine this: You go into a store, choose a few items — pair of shoes, a couple of shirts, a pretty handbag, maybe even an elegant pantsuit. A friendly lady bags your merchandise, then you say ‘thank you’ and head out without paying. No, you are not stealing anything. You are welcome to put some dollar bills and coins into the charity box, but no one will say anything if you choose not to.

Esther Wells, store manager. Photo by Adva Riklin.

Run by Chessed L’Tzion, a Jewish charity organization, Alya is a secondhand boutique located in a small shopping center on Ventura Boulevard by Tampa Avenue. Members of the Orthodox community are familiar with the term “Gemach” (short for Gemilut Chasadim), which basically means that people can borrow — and sometimes keep — items they need free of charge or interest. The Gemachs are lifesavers for people in need who can’t afford to purchase things such as baby essentials, heaters, clothes, and more.

This unique concept, which can be found mostly in ultra-Orthodox communities, is available to all thanks to Alya’s boutique. 

On the day I visited the boutique (designed by interior designer Liron Ohayon) I saw a couple shopping for children’s clothes and a woman who picked a summer dress, a belt, and a pretty handbag that looked quite new. Once she finished her shopping and headed to the front desk, she seemed a little puzzled, noticing there was no cash register. “How much is the dress and bag?” she asked the store manager. “There are no price tags.”

A charity box on the front desk suggests that customers donate money instead of paying for the merchandise, but no will judge you if you leave without making a donation.

“You pay as much as you want to, you set the price,” came the unexpected reply. A charity box on the front desk suggested that customers donate money instead of paying for the merchandise, but no one will judge you if you leave without making a donation.

Vered Peretz, the woman behind the store, explained how she can afford to run the store with that business model:  “We didn’t open it for profit but for the community, a kind of community center,” she said. “This place is more than just a clothing store; it is a place for the soul. You know how we always pass on our baby’s clothes that are too small to our family and friends? So here we do the same thing, pass them on to people in the community. This is truly an amazing thing that doesn’t exist anywhere. When customers wonder where the price tags are, we explain to them what it’s all about. They are very surprised and excited about the concept and leave donations even if they didn’t get anything in the store. This place is for people who need help, who can’t afford to buy clothes and shoes, but it’s also a place for people who want to find beautiful second-hand clothes, just like in any other store. The only difference here is that they are donating to a good cause. This place can only exist if those who can afford it would give a donation. Otherwise, it won’t last long.”

Alya offers much more than clothing and footwear. Those who need a stroller, baby crib, mattress, or a new dresser can find them on the store’s WhatsApp feed. “We can’t keep big items here, so we upload them to WhatsApp, and anyone who is interested can ask us to put them on hold and then come and pick them up.”

The back room serves as a storage space for items donated by the community. One of the volunteers, whose name is also Alya, is sorting through them. Only those in excellent condition will find their way to the hangers; the rest will be donated to other charities. “We have so many people to thank; this is a community effort,” said Peretz. “Shmulik, who has a Laundromat, comes every few days, collects what we don’t need, and transfers the bags to other organizations. His wife Meira also helps us a lot. When we received many book donations, she took the initiative to sell them online for us for $300. Adva, the photographer, always comes and takes photos whenever we need, and some volunteers do PR. This place would not exist if not for the volunteers.”

Peretz moved to Los Angeles from Israel nearly 20 years ago. She planned on visiting her father, who lives here, and then go back to Israel, but then she met her husband, the son of Israeli parents who immigrated to the US many years ago. The couple now has five children.

Peretz is Orthodox and wears a headscarf. Every two weeks she teaches Torah classes for women as part of a group called “Mamtakim La Neshama” (Sweets for the Soul). Religious and secular women of various ages and places in life attend the lessons, which are also available on YouTube.

Her children also got hooked on the joy of giving back. A few months ago, Peretz received a phone call from her son’s teacher: “He asks if you can send a pair of shoes to school with an Uber.” Peretz didn’t understand why her son needed a pair of shoes, but the teacher explained, “He noticed that a child from one of the classes comes to school with torn shoes every day, so he asked me to call you and ask you to send a pair of shoes from Alya.”

Peretz quickly called Esther and asked her to find a pair of shoes in the child’s size, ordered an Uber, and sent the pair to school. Needless to say, the gesture moved the little boy and his mother to tears. “I included a store flyer in the plastic bag so the mom can come and get more things at the store,” recalled Peretz. “A few days later, she came and I found out she has seven children and can barely make ends meet. She was thrilled to learn she can get clothes and shoes for her children for free. Last Passover, she came and got beautiful holiday clothes for all the children.”

Alya gives people in need the freedom to come to a boutique and shop just like everyone else, without feeling embarrassed about their situation. Equally important, it gives the community the opportunity to give back.


Alya is located at 19311 Ventura Blvd in Tarzana. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Closed on Friday and Saturday. 

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