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Shopping at Harry Weiss’ Store
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor

            With Thanksgiving 2020 and the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season upon us, and with many family budgets in the struggles that came with the Pandemic, we'll step back in time to visit Weiss' Store in Pennsburg in 1920.


Harry Weiss' Store on Main St., in Pennsburg


            The Friday after Thanksgiving was decades away from becoming known as Black Friday, or Big Friday – the busiest shopping day of the year and the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season.

            The terms Super or Shop Small Saturday and Cyber Monday came even later. 

Harry Weiss

So, outside of 1920 being the first year of the Gimbel Brothers' Department Store Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1920 shopping around the local communities was a big deal back then.

            Before and after the holiday, local shoppers were looking for bargains, except on alcoholic beverages – remember prohibition started 11 months earlier - and didn't have the means to travel great distances to find them.   

            So, Weiss Store in Pennsburg was a good option in 1920.

            Harry Weiss opened his Economy Dry Goods Store in Pennsburg on April 1, 1905.  He began selling fabrics, lace, notions, ribbons, and embroidery, along with a full line of finished ladies garments.  The remarkable thing about his new enterprise was that it was done in a cramped 8 x 10-foot space that once housed Freed's shoe store.  His advertisements boasted that "All our goods are sold at city prices." 

            This writer isn't sure if that's a good selling point today, but back then it must have represented a sound business practice.  By the time Weiss was ready to celebrate his fourth anniversary in business, he was ready to expand the store and his product lines.

            In 1909, Harry Weiss opened a new store on Main Street in Pennsburg.  It was appropriately named the Pennsburg Department Store.  At the time it was the largest in Montgomery County.  Newspaper accounts heralded Weiss as the "Prince of young merchants in Montgomery County" and that the new store built by Weiss was "to Pennsburg what John Wanamaker's was to Philadelphia."

            The large, new two-story department store was in the middle of the 300 block.  It featured large display windows, and customers were afforded easy access through a large front door.  The interior was spacious and well lighted.  The hardwood finish complimented the building's brick exterior.  It had a large, round attic window in the facade that remains today as a distinguishable characteristic of the structure.

           At the start of the holiday shopping season in 1920, Weiss was selling children's coats for $1.00, men's khaki pants – 2 pair for $2.00, 10-pair of socks for $1.00, ladies slip-over sweaters for $3.98, ladies corsets for $1.00 (ask your grandmother what that was), and men's union suits (ask your grandfather what those were) for only $1.98.

            The Pennsburg Department Store was one of many thriving local department stores at the time in the Upper Perkiomen Valley.  Today, what once was Weiss' Department Store houses several businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second.

            It's hard to imagine that our little four-county corner of the Commonwealth boasted 10 department stores in the early 1900s.  Competition may have been keen among the merchants, but at least you didn't have to go far to buy a pair of socks or fight a crowd when you were grocery shopping.





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