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Because everyone has a story

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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Interesting People: Sonsie Guy

I wrote this piece in August for a Photojournalism class I was taking. From here on out, I’ll be working on more stories like this one. I hope to bring a certain level of awareness to the readers. I want to know YOUR stories, after all everyone has one, right?

Realization: You can walk down a street a hundred times and see the same person over and over again and not think very much of them. After a while, that person becomes part of the scenery. You may think to yourself, “I wonder what that person is doing” but you never take the time to find out.

Then one day everything changes. You stop and look. No, you really look. You’re by Sonsie, a popular restaurant on Newbury Street. You wander just past the open windows of the eatery and there he is, Eric Kluin, a local artist, optimist, pessimist, walking contradiction, better known as “Sonsie Guy”.

When I first arrived in Boston two years ago, I remember walking down Newbury street, looking around bright-eyed, stumbling upon Kluin and wondering “who is that guy over there? What’s he painting? And where the heck is his shirt?” However, I never thought to ask him any of these questions. I simply walked away.  A day in early August would change this.

Walking up to Eric Kluin was intimidating. “I want to write a story on you,” I said. He seemed to look right through me. “It’s just, well it seems like you’re such a big part of the community. You bring a sense of culture to Newbury Street, I see you working on your art here all the time.” “Ah,” he said “flattery will get you everywhere.” I took out my pen and paper his story unfolded.

Inspired by the artwork in comic books, Kluin, 48, knew he wanted to be an artist from a young age. He was never interested in academia and played the part of the rebel through his high-school years.
Though Kluin did not do particularly well in school, he went to and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in art. After college, Kluin remained in Michigan and spent most of his time working on his art and drinking, heavily.

In 1988 Kluin moved to Brookline, MA. and began selling his art to local galleries on Newbury Street. This is also where he began to spend his days and five years later Kluin would realize his dependency on alcohol.

“It’s funny,” Kluin said “once I sobered up I realized I am kind of weird. I mean, here I am standing in the same place I was 21 years ago, (only) completely sober, drawing, drinking coffee, and smoking cigarettes. It’s enough to make you crazy.”

Walking by Kluin for so many years, I have seen him drawing many different things; flowers, naked women, city scenes, and today a bone winged angel.  With such a wide spectrum of ideas flowing through his hand, I wonder what inspires him.

“I draw inspiration from literature, people, situations” said Kluin “but most importantly experience. I’ve done more ‘revenge on ex-girlfriend’ pieces than I can tell you.”

Talking to Kluin was a whirlwind. He was much smarter than he thought he was, more talented then he knew, but my god did this mans mind know how to wander. With so many ideas how can someone stick to one idea and create such interesting and relevant artwork?

“My thoughts are like spiders running around my mind, they crawl out of my head so quickly,” said Kluin “But once in a while, I catch one.”

After years spent on Newbury Street, Kluin has run into much adoration and criticism from people walking by. He realizes that not everyone understands him or cares for his work and that every lifestyle comes with certain restrictions.

“Me? I have all the freedom in the world except for economic freedom. There are tradeoffs to every lifestyle.” Said Kluin, “But the happiest people are the ones who manage to balance it all. It’s my ultimate goal to reach that comfort level.”

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