Wenzel's Bakery, a family-operated business begun in Coaldale during the struggling days of the Depression, will close next month after a run of 73 years.
"It'll be sometime around Thanksgiving," says proprietor George Wenzel.
Wenzel, who'll turn 82 in April, feels the time has come to call it quits, and acknowledges that people's tastes are changing, even when it comes to dessert. He says the new generation just doesn't have a yearning or appreciation for chemical-free, home-baked pastries. They're more into fast food.
"Today's young people buy at McDonald's, Burger King or the supermarket bakeries...We make it fresh. We don't use preservatives," he points out.
As a result, mom-and-pop bakeries are closing doors.
Company founder George Wenzel passed away in 1968.
"Every week I get a notice of bakery equipment up for sale someplace," he says, recalling that small towns often had more than one family bakery.
"In Mahanoy City, there were five. Tamaqua mostly had bread bakers."
At one time, those bakeries served as training ground for young men trying to make a living during a bleak period in American history.
George's father, George Sr., was one of those.
"He couldn't get a job due to the Depression," recalls Wenzel. His father had gained valuable baking experience, having worked at many local bakeries, including Eames, Bobst's, Christ's and Saylor's.
In fact, George Sr. was serving as superintendent when Bobst's workers went on strike. But after that, the job market was tight. So, in 1933, to get by, Wenzel borrowed sugar and flour from the local grocery store and started baking treats at his 149 Moser Avenue home.
"In those days, people bought on tick," recalls George. He got his ingredients on tick at Sicanavage's."
The elder Wenzel eventually opened a store at Second and Ruddle streets, where business started to grow.
The family purchased an old Ford, removed the rear seat, and started making deliveries. The bakery served the entire area and the business involved all members of the Wenzel family, including children George, Elizabeth, William and Robert.
The operation moved to Tamaqua in 1941. At the time, young George juggled responsibilities, as did other family members. He was still playing football for Coaldale High School yet managed to help his father run the bakery during a time when business was bustling.
"Back then we sold pies wholesale to the grocery stores. Then, I lived in Tamaqua and played football for Coaldale. I was a 150-pound tackle," he says.
"Ask Dick Jones (former Tamaqua High coach) about it. He always threatened to report me to the PIAA for living in Tamaqua and playing football at Coaldale," says Wenzel with a smile.
The Wenzel enterprises grew to include a Nash automobile dealership, a skating rink and a dance hall, all located at one time or another at a large Center Street commercial complex.
George Sr., who went on to serve as superintendent of Coaldale State General Hospital, passed away in 1968.
George Jr., a U. S. Army WWII veteran, echoed his father's devotion to public service, serving on Tamaqua Borough Council for 24 years, including many years as president. He's also active with the Tamaqua Rotary Club.
The bakery business on East Broad Street suffered a substantial setback on October 13, 1981, when fire gutted the building. The operation re-opened next door at 125 East Broad Street, with baking handled at the Center Street location.
At its peak, the bakery grew to include locations in Pottsville, Mahanoy City, Lansford and Allentown.
Wenzel says homemade pies and cream-filled doughnuts seemed to be the top choices among customers over the years.
Of course, various family members contributed their expertise.
For instance, William, or "Bill," was skilled at baking bread, doughnuts and buns. Elizabeth and George wrapped and delivered. Robert took care of the accounting. But all of those responsibilities shifted as needed.
William passed away in 1986, followed by Elizabeth (Wenzel) Krepak this past June.
Elizabeth's daughter, Suzanne (Krepak) Krell, still works at the bakery.
"I've helped out since I was 12, mostly running the store, she says."
George's son, George III, sometimes contributes by decorating cakes. In total, the operation employs six.
Wenzel says he will likely sell the baking equipment at the Center Street building. Plans are being formulated for that location but Wenzel says he is not at liberty to discuss details at this time.
"But I can tell you that the building will be torn down."
The Broad Street store will not be sold. Wenzel says the retail space likely would become available for rent.
Asked what he will miss most about the baking business, Wenzel can sum it up in two words.
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