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The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is one of Amols’ busiest periods of the year, a time when its business-to-business sales jump as area hotels and event centers begin to gear up for New Year’s Eve revelry.
“Our neighbors go, ‘How come you don’t decorate for Christmas?’” said Jeffrey Weiss, president of Amols’ Specialty Inc., surrounded in a warehouse by boxes of party supplies stacked to the ceiling and workers tirelessly preparing to ship the goods.
Amols’ has been supplying the piñatas, party hats, and papel picado of the city’s celebrations for 70 years. Led by third-generation owner Weiss, Amols’ stocks 10,000 vibrant products in its showroom – from foil decorations and eyewear with blinking lights to velvet sombreros and glittery tiaras, spools of ribbon and noisy noisemakers, metallic beads and woven blankets.
These days, the store is doing $2,000 worth of transactions a day, leaving the Weiss family little time to decorate their own home.
But Amols’ busiest time is in late spring when the showroom transforms into a Fiesta wonderland and the store sells a huge volume of its relatively low-dollar items. Starting in February, the company ramps up by bringing another 12 people onto the staff of 23 full-time employees. “It’s bananas,” Weiss said.
Amols’ also has an online store that showcases products by holidays, themes, and celebrations. Amols’ employees answer the customer service phone number listed on the site and shipments of supplies go out from a warehouse adjacent to the showroom.
In January 2018, Amols’ moved from the South Flores location it had occupied for 55 years to a 1930s-era building at 227 Fredericksburg Rd. that had been vacant after the family-owned flooring store Hicks moved on.
The new location, painted a bright purple and topped with an old radio tower, has three times the old store’s showroom and warehouse space and has more than 70 parking spaces. In remodeling the building, Weiss intentionally kept some of the flooring samples that had been left behind and other quirky features.
“It’s not your typical [store] … but I think it gives it a lot of character, too, kind of like the old place,” Weiss said.
Amols’ got its start when Weiss’s grandfather, Julian Amols, realized during the Depression that even when life was hard, people still managed to find the money to spend on entertainment.
He left his in-laws’ grocery and liquor business behind to start a movie theater on San Antonio’s East Side. But he had difficulty acquiring the “A” films and struggled financially, Weiss said. The first and only time he had a sold-out house, he received a call that his wife was in labor with their first child. He shut down the theater and gave everyone a refund.
Ever the salesman, Amols went on to start a business selling carnival supplies and bingo cages and cards, and by the 1970s became the largest bingo equipment distributor in the country. He opened the first Amols’ store on North St. Mary’s Street in 1949, then moved to a location near the Pearl Brewery and again to a spot close to the old Katy Depot on South Laredo Street.
In 1963, he acquired the property at 710 S. Flores St. where the store became a San Antonio institution. When Amols’ moved to the Five Points neighborhood on Fredericksburg, Julian’s portrait came along and is installed in the foyer. Weiss uses the Southtown building for overflow storage but has plans to either redevelop or sell it in the coming year.
Selling would be hard, he acknowledged. Weiss began working there when he was in the fifth grade at Cambridge Elementary School and knew at an early age he would enter the family business. He has memorized nearly all the company’s 10,000 product SKUs. His wife, Maritza Weiss, also works at Amols’ and her ancestral connections to Peru have opened the door for Amols’ to carry artisan products from that country as well as from Mexico.
The holidays may bring in a lot of business, but Weiss is careful to order and stock only the amount of product he thinks will sell, especially when it comes to “2020” items. For New Year’s, party-in-a-box kits are a popular product.
He said it’s well-known in the industry that when New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday or Monday, demand will drop, so he always plans for that. This year, it’s a Tuesday, but if the inventory doesn’t sell, Weiss said he will repurpose the glasses, hats, and tableware for graduation party season.
It’s true, he said, that there are countless places to purchase party supplies in San Antonio. But Weiss thinks Amols’ has done a good job over the years of listening to customers and understanding what San Antonio wants to celebrate, such as the rodeo and Day of the Dead.
“All these little festivals that go on, like Luminaria … and parades, we try to have stuff that there’s more of a local demand for,” he said.
Customers often seek out advice from store employees when party planning, in that way inviting Amols’ into their family celebrations. And while the supplies may be disposable and transitory, the store itself has a lasting appeal that goes back generations in San Antonio.
“I think we’ve built a lot of relationships with a lot of customers,” Weiss said. “There are people who come in here and say they remember coming here in the ’60s with their parents, with their grandparents, and I feel like that longevity and track record and reputation just helps.”