NEW YORK — Bernie Weiss has worked as a salesman in the garment center for 65 years, including stints at Soubrette and Kay Windsor and several years running his own showroom, Bernie Weiss Inc. He has been with his current employer, Faviana, for 25.
But at age 89, he has no plans to retire. On the contrary, he just signed a contract for another 10 years. His boss, chief executive officer Omid Moradi, offered him one for 20, but, Weiss says, “No way. Ten will do it.” He lives in Manalapan, N.J., with Natalie, his wife of more than 50 years — the couple has four daughters — and takes the bus in to Manhattan each day.
Weiss, who is slender and stylishly dressed in a lavender sweater during an interview at the Faviana showroom — looking, with his shock of white hair, a bit like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. — has seen the business go through quite a number of different phases. “The biggest change that has taken place is that manufacturing has gone offshore,” he says. There was also a greater concentration of “rough people, who came up the hard way” in the garment center when he began work there. At the beginning of his career, he notes, “Prom was basically in California. They had the knowledge.”
There is another change, too. “Kids have no loyalty to stores,” he says. “They’ll go from store to store and drive 50 or 60 miles. They know where to find things, and they’re good hunters.” Maintaining active presences on Facebook and Twitter have long helped his firm drive sales and Weiss is up to speed with all of it, even though he prefers the personal touch.
Faviana is best-known as a prom dress company, and it still has a substantial business in that area, but it has developed a special-occasion business for adult women because its staff noticed that they were taking an interest in the dresses, too. Weiss manages his accounts by keeping detailed records so that he knows exactly which styles each store has ordered and can make specific suggestions about extra pieces that they should add during the season. He shows off a series of ledgers with myriad details taken down in tiny handwriting.
“Business has been good with us,” Weiss says. “People are not spending as much as they used to, but parents do dig into the cookie jar for the right occasion. We do dresses for junior proms and bat or bas mitzvahs.”
Does he like continuing to work? “I love it,” he says. “I adore it.” His colleagues are “very nice people” — something that they demonstrated in May by throwing him a big party for his birthday.