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Big-Box Orthodox: It's Kosher, but . . .

As for the charge that Albertsons, with $36 billion in annual revenue, is driving mom-and-pop shops out of business, Yarmove said the company is too big to see the independent stores as competitors.

"Occasionally, you'll find a story where the independent went out of business. What I understand is the independent wasn't doing very well in the first place. The straw that broke the camel's back."

Chayim Knobloch and his wife, Nurit, maneuver around Geulah Ravitch, 3, and her brother Betzalel, 6, in the candy aisle at Kol Tuv Kosher Foods. (Chris Walker -- Chicago Tribune Via AP)

For shoppers accustomed to the crowded aisles and serendipity of local kosher stores, the Jewel on Howard Avenue, the border between Chicago and the town of Evanston, is a revelation.

"Isn't it incredible?" one woman said to another as they marveled at the display, from Empire chicken to Tirat Zvi honey-glazed turkey breast to kugel and frozen pizza. And fresh sushi, of course. Always the sushi.

"It's about time," said Sheryl Palmer, inspecting the kosher selection for the first time. "People like good quality food and don't have time to make it. They're going to come where it's kosher and it's a little cheaper."

Wendy Margolin, who lives in West Rogers Park, was more ambivalent. She worries that Jewel will drive away its more vulnerable competition. She also believes that something more important than profits are at stake.

"I try and maintain my old shopping habits," Margolin said. "We have a responsibility."

Back at Kol Tuv, Knobloch closed his books one day and headed into the frigid twilight, on his way to synagogue. He said his loyal customers were behind him in the sales battle and pointed to Rabbi David Maler.

Maler said he enjoys shopping at Kol Tuv for the sense of fellowship. Then, cupping his hand over his mouth, he admitted that he has started to buy kosher goods at Jewel. "The sale stuff," he said sotto voce.

"I asked my local rabbi," Maler said. "He said, 'The sale products -- you should give yourself a break.' "

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