Jan Cohen Weiss is the owner of one of Philadelphia’s premier dress stores. Berta Sawyer, a sophisticated salon, is known for outfitting the area’s best dressed women. Jan’s casual, warm demeanor is a disarming complement to the Berta Sawyer reputation of sophistication and high style.
Jan didn’t always expect a career in women’s fashion retail. In fact, it all started by accident when helping her mother, Lorna Cohen. She described her journey saying “Actually, my mother was a customer of the original Berta Sawyer when it was located on Castor Avenue in Northeast Philly. It was a small store then, packed with great clothes. One day in 1972, the owner, Berta Sawyer, asked my mom if she’d like to buy the business. Truthfully, this was not something my mother was even contemplating, but the prospect of retail in high end formal wear and special occasion wear was appealing. She had a special flair for fashion, and she still does. When given the opportunity, she decided to go forward and purchased Berta Sawyer. Eventually, especially after my father passed away, what was originally a bit of a lark became very serious business. The business thrived, and it’s been in our hands ever since. It’s a long time.”
Jan’s story continues that after she gave birth to her daughter, Shira, she spent her maternity leave from teaching and worked in the store. She immediately loved the work at Berta Sawyer. Even more, she loved being able to have her daughter with her. Better yet, she loved knowing that when Shira left the store on Castor Avenue, she was being strolled in her carriage up and down the avenue by Jan’s grandparents, Shira’s great grandparents. As Jan describes it, those were wonderful times when four generations of Cohen women lived close, worked close and grew together even closer. It was a great time for her family.
Eventually, Jan had her son, Ari, and she continued her extended maternity leave working at Berta Sawyer. Jan never returned to teaching in the public schools as she was smitten by the clothing business permanently. Jan sees a connection between her formal training in education and the work she does today. “It’s definitely helped in collaborating with my co-workers. Jan calls upon her communication skills constantly and taps into her “teacher” abilities to train and organize all the time.
Jan has always had a “flair” for fashion. She never had a ton of clothes as a teenager, but what she did have were pieces that could be intermingled. Even then she had the ability to mix and match so it gave the impression that her wardrobe was endless. That might have been the first hint of what was to come!”
What about Berta Sawyer, a Philadelphia landmark for special occasion dressing? “It’s true our reputation has been built on dressing for THE special occasion. We still do that… mothers, daughters, grandmothers alike can find what they want and need at Berta Sawyer. But we’re much more than that. We are a clothing salon that is all encompassing.
We carry a wide range of casual wear, sportswear and accessories, and we can dress young women starting in their teen years. We specialize in fitting a “real” female body. That is our forte.”
Jan keeps up with the trends and changes in acceptable attire. “Today’s mood is more relaxed than when my mother started at Berta Sawyer. Even so, there still are times one needs to be less “relaxed” and more dressed. I think perhaps the younger generation is a little too relaxed. There’s nothing more important than that first impression, and that’s where my staff and I can help.”
What does Jan recommend for that starter wardrobe? “That’s easy. I recommend a pair of great fitting black pants, a black skirt,a belt and one layering piece – in color. If you prefer a black dress to the skirt, that’s fine. You can layer just as well with either. You’ll also need a jacket to coordinate with these pieces. Tweed would be perfect. Build upon these separates and you can’t go wrong. We can help you put this together and do it within your budget.” Expert fitting and specialized attention is what Jan Weiss and her Berta Sawyer compatriots are all about. Regardless the occasion or lack thereof, Jan and her crew can fill the bill.
Jan really loves what she does. When she’s not working, finishing the details for someone’s growing wardrobe, where does life take her? She is a doting grandmother frequently traveling to visit her grandchildren, an avid reader, and a staunch Eagles Fan. A real pool person, she enjoys soaking up the rays as if to prepare herself for the fall onslaught of fashion frenzy.
Above all, Jan Weiss is a committed family person. She puts people first, both in her personal life and professionally. Besides her children and grandchildren, she includes her mother, Lorna and Jan’s partner, Rick, as those most significant in her life. As in all independently owned businesses, Berta Sawyer is a reflection of the person behind it… very real and warm, and exceptionally caring.