With a background in performance dance, a stick-to-it mentality and a fashion sense influenced by her parents, 77-year-old Merle Weiner celebrates the fact her childhood still influences the way she runs her small consignment shop.
Located at 912 Cottman Ave., Merle’s Clothes Closet is a retail store filled with high-end clothing, jewelry and other accessories.
“One woman purchased nearly 15 tops before heading to vacation,” Weiner said. “My store made up her entire wardrobe!”
Due to Weiner’s self-proclaimed type A personality, she makes sure the clothing is top of the line, well-made and up-to-date with the latest trends.
Run on an appointment-only basis, customers call to schedule a visit at the store. After opening two other stores in South Jersey, Weiner has found the most success at her current location in Northeast Philadelphia.
As Weiner’s store approaches its 32nd year, she still has some of the same customers and consigners that have visited, donated and shopped at the store from the very start.
She never thought she would ever open a clothing store ––her friend suggested the idea and Weiner decided to go with it.
But, the path to owning a business was not an obvious or straight one.
The self-employed store owner started taking dance lessons as a five-year-old. She learned tap, ballet, toe and acrobatics.
Three times a week, Weiner traveled back and forth to the dance studio.
“I took buses and other routes of transportation just to make it to the studio and do what I loved,” she said.
After fourteen years of learning the art of dance under a Russian woman named Pavoliva, Weiner wanted to teach dance herself.
Weiner said her dance background and the strict scheduling it had helped to shape her overall mentality in terms of fashion and the way she runs her business.
Weiner is meticulous with her work. She writes everything from the tags on the clothing, to the names of the consigners, to the prices and all other expenses.
She also keeps a detailed book with every customer and consigner she has ever had.
“As a result, I have never had one complaint with mishandling money or forgetting an appointment,” she said.
Sharon Kligman Golder Sussman, a Philadelphia resident and long-time friend of Weiner’s, is a frequent customer to the store.
“I’ve even helped her out working there on occasion, so she could spend time with her grandsons,” Sussman said. “She’s truly one-of-a-kind. I’ve enjoyed our long-time friendship and shopping at her unique shop.”
Weiner was dressed in the finest clothes her entire life.
“My father came from Russia and his father ran a suit business,” she said. “I learned from a very young age the difference between certain materials ––what was higher quality versus lower quality–– and which fabrics were which.”
Weiner loves tailored styles and believes her mother heavily influenced her personal taste in clothing.
“My mother’s clothes were always tailored, but they would have rhinestone buttons,” she said. “She would have a wool coat and the matching dress underneath, but the coat would have rhinestone buttons.”
Weiner always admired her parents and their taste in fashion.
“I would watch my parents as they dressed to go out for the evening,” she said. “Then, I would peer through the window and observe my mother in her tailored outfits and my father in his suit made with only the finest material. The pure leather handbags and shoes completed their look for the night.”
Weiner continues, “My mother was naturally into high-end clothing, furs, good jewelry and genuine leather shoes and bags.”
Since fashion always found its way into her life, Weiner makes sure all of her items throughout the entire store are high-end. She emphasizes the store is not a thrift store, but a consignment shop.
Almost everything in Weiner’s wardrobe comes from her shop.
“Even my daughter, friends and family shop at Merle’s Clothes Closet,” she said.
Weiner said that after so many years in the business, she can easily price any item that comes into her store. If a customer tries to negotiate, she usually rejects his or her offer.
As a 77-year-old, Weiner does not see herself retiring any time soon.
“I am healthy,” she said. “There is not a thing wrong with me ––I think because I danced my whole life. My reflexes are like an 18-year-old!”
Dancing in her free time, spending time with her family and running a small business by herself, Weiner enjoys life everyday. She only hopes to bring in more high-end clothing and continue drawing in new customers to Merle’s Clothing Closet.
–Text, photos and video by Taylor Carson and Michelle Bresnahan.