Dan Weiss, whose father opened Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop when John F. Kennedy was in the White House, has closed the doors as he heads into retirement, marking the end to one of the neighborhood’s oldest businesses.
“I’ve only been here 54 years,” Weiss, 70, said with a smile. Weiss also has been wrestling with health issues including rheumatoid arthritis. “I have a lot of mixed feelings,” he said as prospective customers tried the shop door, which was locked. Sunday was the last day.
Weiss started at the shop in 1965, two years after his father, Joseph, closed the family’s grocery in Germantown, which opened in 1927, and moved to the bustling Chestnut Hill commercial strip.
At 8509 Germantown Ave., Joseph Weiss stocked refrigerators with cheeses and filled shelves with coffees, teas, and specialty groceries. At the time, Joseph Weiss owned the business with his in-laws, Gertrude and Abraham Kaufman.
“That was the start of malls,” Dan Weiss said. “But Chestnut Hill was quite a happening area for a number of years.”
When Weiss, then a teen, learned about the new store in Chestnut Hill, “I had to ask where Chestnut Hill was,” he said Wednesday as he and his wife, Susan, were cleaning up. On Friday, Weiss will hold an open house from 2 to 7 p.m. to say goodbye to neighbors.
Dan Weiss took over in 1978. Aside from a business partner from 1982 to 2012, Weiss has largely worked the shop himself, with assists from his wife and their daughters, Jacqueline, now 24, and Gabrielle, 22. Neither daughter will take over the business. “I’m devastated,” said Jacqueline, a writer who lives in California.
Weiss said he’d miss his customers. He’s not sure what’s next: perhaps part-time work for a friend, perhaps drug-and-alcohol counseling. "Most people have no idea,” he said of his 31 years of sobriety. “The fact that I’m not drinking or using drugs means the world is a safer place.”
Weiss’ health issues didn’t help his business over the last few years. Neither did the local business climate. There is some local competition, including Fresh Market and Weavers Way, the co-op.
“Retail business has precipitously dropped,” Weiss said. “We have nine banks in Chestnut Hill. They don’t bring customers. We have nail salons, hair places. … Amazon has sucked the life out of the area." Though Amazon is not a competitor, Weiss said, its effect on retailing has cut foot traffic that may frequent related businesses.
At least, he said, he was able to provide for private college for his daughters. “I’m broke, but they got a good education,” he said.