Arts & Culture
Discovering My Entrepreneurial Instinct at Sleepaway Camp
Learning the value of capitalism—and clean laundry—at summer camp Read More
After my summer as the youngest kid at Camp Galil, where I celebrated Corporate Domination Day among other socialist-Zionist camping traditions at age eight, I jumped ship to a more capitalistic camp. At Nah Jee Wah I excelled in basketball and woodshop, and ultimately made my mark as an entrepreneur.
Early on I noticed an obvious need for late night sweets. My bunkmates and I would purchase Peanut Chews, frozen Rolos and Snickers at our camp’s canteen, but when we returned to our bunk, our collective sweet tooth was still wanting. I purchased a few snacks at the next canteen visit and instead of eating them there and then, I smuggled them into the bunk, locking the chocolate bars in my trunk, out of reach of the counselors. I did the same the following week.
I’m not sure if it was David or Nick who first said they could really go for a Snickers, but I recall leaning over to one of them, saying, “I can make that happen.”
That’s how I became the bunk’s sugar dealer. I made more canteen visits, learned how to leverage other campers’ Nerf balls and magazines for their canteen credit, and even had my parents bring me candy on Visiting Day.
Business boomed so fast that I signed up for extra woodshop sessions to build a box with a secret compartment so I could flout the camp’s no-food-in-the-bunk rules in plain sight. I was unstoppable, at least for a short while.
The candy business, it turned out, was untenable. My business model was too easily replicable and soon everyone was hoarding snacks in sock drawers and bunk rafters.
The following summer I stumbled upon a better business opportunity when a counselor commended my impeccably tidy cubby, a consequence of my mother’s recent decision to no longer do my laundry coupled with my compulsive Virgo tendencies.
“I’ll give you a dollar to organize my cubby,” my friend Ben said just before visiting day, offering four times the price of a typical candy sale. His socks and underwear were strewn all about, his jeans were always covered in melted chocolate. He couldn’t possibly pass cubby inspections without me. Could I even say no?
Max, Elan and Asher requested cubby service too when they saw how Ben’s cubby had transformed. I was the go-to man, hired before cubby checks and clean laundry returns.
I banked nearly forty-seven dollars by the summer’s end, all with the intent to spend it at Dorney Park, an amusement park in Allentown, Pennsylvania where the camp took us on the final week. I spent some of the loot on funnel cakes and churros, I recall, but kept my eye on the prize: winning a mini-basketball with the logo of the “it” NBA franchise at the time at the Basketball Free-Throw booth. The slightly ovular rims of the hoops were no wider than the ball’s diameter, so only a perfectly angled shot could go in.
I won! It wasn’t easy. I tried fifteen, maybe twenty times, whatever it would take. The extra cash came in handy. Back at camp my basketball was a point of pride for the remaining few days, a display of vanity akin to a luxury car today.
Had I continued on at socialist camp, I’m not sure where I would be today or if my entrepreneurial spirits would have been appropriately nurtured. I do know for certain that had I not been there that summer, I never would have had a basketball to hoard for years and eventually dump in the trash when my parents sold the family house. Yes, at Nah Jee Wah I truly learned the value of capitalism.
Jeffrey Yoskowitz is a freelance writer in Brooklyn and the editor of Pork Memoirs. He remains an entrepreneur, having moved on from candy and laundry to gefilte fish and pickles as co-founder of The Gefilteria.