Nearly a century of commerce at Wolfson’s Department Store in Olde Towne Gaithersburg came to a close on Oct. 26, when the business shut down.
The store opened in 1918. Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz has owned it since 1971, continuing to run the family business that his grandparents, Jacob and Rose Wolfson, started.
Filled with toys, clothing, and fabric in its early years, the space was transformed by Katz in the 1980s into more of a men’s clothing and shoe shop. Katz owned the business on his own, but he and his two older brothers own the entire building.
Katz, 63, said he decided to close down the 5,200-square-foot storefront on East Diamond Avenue when he realized he lost the drive to run the business.
Recalling an incident several months earlier, Katz said a salesman visited the store to show him a new line of menswear that would have been a good fit with his other merchandise. After feeling uncharacteristically hesitant about making the deal, Katz saw the situation as a turning point for the business.
“As a small businessman, you work right on your impulse and you sort of jump at the attraction,” he said. “But I said, ‘Let me think about it,’ which was not my usual. I got to thinking, there’s a time where I would have had that spark and I didn’t.”
At that point, the lifelong Gaithersburg resident slowly started to think about shutting down. After talking with his family, he decided it was the right choice for him.
Katz said he would have had to invest more time at the establishment and spend money on remodeling the interior if he stayed on as owner, efforts he did not want to make since no one in his family was interested in eventually taking over.
“I would have to spend more time in here, rather than less,” he said. “I thought, ‘If the kids don’t want it, I don’t know that I want to make the investment.’”
Katz said he will spend the rest of the year packing up decades worth of documents and personal possessions. He and his brothers will retain ownership of the building and are open to leasing to new tenants, although there is no planned idea for the space, he said.
Steve Lehr, a manager at McCormick Paints, another local staple, a block west of Wolfson’s, said he was sad to see the store go.
“It’s sad, in my opinion, to see another small business go,” he said. “It’s been one of the mainstays of Olde Towne Gaithersburg for years.”
Gaithersburg Economic Development Director Tom Lonergan said that while the local store will be missed, the closing represents a new opportunity for another business owner.
“Obviously, Wolfson’s was around for a very long time,” he said. “But we are fortunate that the property is still going to be owned by the mayor and his family and a space is becoming available on the block.”
Lonergan said he thought a “quality restaurant or eclectic boutique” would function well in the space.
Katz said he hopes to have more flexible time for other activities in his life.
“If something would come along that I have great interest in, and give me flexible hours that I could do what I want to do on the mayor side of my life and do something in addition to that, I would consider it,” he said.