BROOKLINE — The price of the penny candy is up to 10 cents, but not much else has changed at the small toy shop Ethel Weiss has been running near Brookline’s Coolidge Corner for 74 years.
Instead of video games, children looking for toys in Irving’s Toy & Card Shop will find what Weiss calls old-fashioned toys such as Slinkys, Silly Putty, wood paddle ball, green army men, and finger traps.
Weiss would know a thing or two about old-fashioned toys.
Friday was her 99th birthday.
“I never want to retire,” she said Thursday. “I’ll stay here as long as God lets me.”
To celebrate her birthday, neighbors are bringing a cake for a party at the store at 1 p.m. Saturday.
She has been running her store at 371 Harvard St. just outside Coolidge Corner in Brookline’s JFK Crossing neighborhood since 1939. What started as a small grocery and school supply store transitioned into a toy and card shop after Weiss and her late husband Irving Kravetz purchased the small shop. Kravetz passed away in 1960, and Weiss’s second husband, Abe Weiss, has also passed away.
But she has kept the store running year after year while the economy and changes in the marketplace have forced other toy stores to close.
Weiss said she credits the survival of her business to low overhead and great customers. She lives next door and the store keeps her busy, especially during the school year, when children are attending the neighboring Edward Devotion School.
She said her love for children is what keeps her going.
“The people around here are wonderful,” Weiss said.
The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance honored Weiss for her efforts to improve the quality of life in the community earlier this year, and Brookline Access Television has filmed a documentary about her.
Diana Spiegel, a Brookline Town Meeting member who lives near the shop and took her children there when they were younger, said Weiss runs the perfect kind of store for elementary students to go to on their way home from school.
“She is warm and friendly and gets to know the kids,” Spiegel said. “They learn how to buy things with their allowance in a safe and friendly environment.”
Weiss said she does not sell unsafe items, refuses to sell things like candy cigarettes because she thinks they send the wrong message, and does not sell many expensive toys.
When the children come in to buy candy, Weiss said, she makes them do the math to add up how much they are spending. She also makes them read her list of tips that she calls “Thoughts for a Happier Life,” which includes sage advice such as “show appreciation, try to be a good role model,” and “don’t try to be perfect. Just do the best you can.”
“I make all the kids read it, because I want them to do the right thing,” Weiss said.
Weiss’s daughter Anita Jamieson, 71, said she and her sister, Jan White, who lives in Florida, have many cherished memories of the store. Jamieson, who still lives in Brookline, said her mother put her to work in the store when she was young, and she still stops in several times a week.
While Jamieson said she does have some concerns about her mother working in the store at 99 years old, she thinks there comes a point where the risk is possibly worth her mother’s happiness and independence.
“There are a lot of people in the neighborhood who check on her regularly, people I don’t even know,” Jamieson said. “They just go in and talk to her and enjoy seeing her and feel protective.”
This time next year, Weiss said, she hopes she is celebrating her 100th birthday and is still working at the store.
“It’s more fun being here than at home,” she said.