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Interesting People: Ethel Weiss

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“What do you want?!” yelled a vivacious old woman from a chair inside of a crowded toy, card and candy shop in Brookline, Mass.

“Wow, I thought, she sure sized me up quickly.” I guess she knew I wasn’t your average customer with my Canon Rebel slung around my neck. It’s okay though, because Ethel Weiss isn’t your average woman. She’s 95 years old and has been in the toy, candy, card business for 71 years. She is the owner and sole employee of Irving’s Toy and Card Shop.

“This place is amazing.” I said looking around wide-eyed, as if I had gotten in a time machine and entered a much simpiler era. “It’s my life, come sit down and talk to me. You’re gonna interview me? I never say no, but you should know I just did one of these this morning.” Weiss then took out a whole binder of newspaper clippings, books, and awards she had been given over the years. She has been named such things as Brookline’s “Guardian Angel”, a “legend”, and an inspirational woman.

Irving’s Toy and Card Shop was started out as a grocery store. Weiss’s then husband, Irving Kravetz, bought the shop and turned it into a wonderous place selling beautiful cards and delicious treats for children. It debuted on January 13th, 1939.  When Kravetz died, Weiss decided to keep the shop. She would eventually marry Abe Weiss, who would help her run the shop until his death.

The shop itself is one small room, followed by a hall of toys, but they’re not your average everyday toys. These are toys that I don’t even remember having as a child, but I do remember descriptions of toys like these from my mother.

In fact, mostly everything in Irving’s is old-fashioned, including the cash register. This thing is so old that it doesn’t even do sales tax on it, in fact Weiss told me that the man who sold to her has perished and the last time it broke, she had to have a mechanic order her a part from Texas. Refusing to buy a computer, Weiss keeps all her records in notebooks and calculates all of the money herself. She also refuses to take accept credit cards and places all of her orders by phone.

I approached my next question with caution. “Ethel?” I said, “how do you keep this place going?” She cocked her head and I readied myself for her response. With a sigh she exclaimed “It’s my life, and I love it. I’m not going to act like it’s not hard to get out of bed and force myself down here sometimes, it is, but I love every second of it. And anyway you’ve got to make your money somehow.”

With that the door swung open a Brookline crossing guard, came in and bought a chocolate bar. She looked at me “Wait til you see the kids, they’re gonna be lining up outside the door any second.” I smiled, not believing that there would actually be a line for this place.

“Oh! It’s 2:30” said Weiss “the children will be coming!”

Moments later a lined formed outside the door. Kids were coming and going quicker than milk is bottled in a factory.

A worried parent came through the door, and eyed me.”Writing a story on Ethel?” “Yes sir, I am.” “She’s the absolute best, we love her around here.” And I could see that.

For the next half hour there was non-stop traffic and it was almost hard to breathe. Though, I must say these were the most well-behaved children, I’ve ever seen and Weiss made sure to point that out several times.

When the rush died down, Weiss looked at me. She knew I now understood why she had stayed open all these years. She loved it and the people, most importantly the children, loved her.

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