The evacuation of downtown stores for redevelopment will bring an end to a tradition of Wisser family business in its location lasting more than 75 years and three generations.
Wisser Sporting Goods, 169 Lincoln Ave., in the midst of the old downtown, is moving soon to temporary quarters on South Harbor Blvd. next to the police station.
The downtown merchants have been forced to evacuate by the city’s ambitious plans to remake a once-thriving business district.
“I question it being progress,” says Marion Harvey, a descendant of the business founder.
Roman Wisser (pronounced Weeser), the patriarch of the Wisser clan in Anaheim, opened a restaurant on Los Angeles street in 1886, employing a Chinese cook. When the cook proved unreliable, Roman sent to San Antonio Texas for Miss Emily Meyers, a young woman he had met while living in San Antonio.
Emily became his bride and helper in the restaurant. They had a son, Lucien “Pete” Wisser, and three daughters, Mary, Emma and Alice.
After an unsuccessful saloon in Fullerton, the Wissers settled back in Anaheim to stay in 1898, by opening a new saloon in the building that is now Lind Rexall Pharmacy, 144 W. Lincoln Ave. Calling the establishment “Favorite Saloon” and advertising Schlitz beer on draught, the family liquor trade prospered.
In 1906, Roman built a new “Favorite Saloon” across the street at 169 W. Center Street (now Lincoln Ave.). The family business continues in the same building today.
In those days the packed dirt of Center Street was traveled by horse-drawn wagons and an occasional horseless carriage. Cattle and sheep from the Bixby Ranch in Long Beach were driven along Center Street past the swinging doors of the Favorite Saloon on their way to pasture in the countryside east to Riverside.
Roman died in 1913. Pete took over the business until 1917, when he left to serve with the U.S. Army in Europe. Emily Wisser ran the saloon until Prohibition in 1918.
Pete returned to Anaheim following World War I and was reunited with his sweetheart, Edna Nichols, a Santa Ana school teacher, whom he married in 1920. Wisser Sporting Goods was begun that year.
The children – daughter Marion, and sons Edwin and Allan – were born and reared in Anaheim. They each graduated from Anaheim High School and attended Fullerton Junior College.
In that era the store was a Saturday night gathering place for local businessmen and neighboring farmers who came to town.
Marion, who use to listen in, recalls that “tall tales of fishing and hunting were spun, and some of the language used in those stories was too much for my young years.”
As sporting good stores do, the Wissers had mounted specimens of wild animals on the store walls. Pete was in the store during the Long Beach earthquake of 1933, when a stuffed bobcat, jarred loose by the tremors, leaped off the top shelf and landed on the startled proprietor.
In the 1930’s, Center Street was transformed from dirt to pavement, and widened into one of Anaheim’s earlier “downtown redevelopment” projects. The widening sliced off eight feet of the store’s front; the Wissers have been hurt before by “redevelopment.”
Marion has mixed feelings about changes in downtown Anaheim that have affected the business: “When it’s your home town and you’ve grown up here, what can you say?
“I guess you can always say the past was better and those were the good old days, but just miss it when things were a little simpler and easier, when you could walk down the street and you know 90 percent of the people. Now you’re lucky to see someone you know.”
The significant changes in Anaheim during the 1950’s, including the arrival of Walt Disney, occurred while Pete Wisser sat on the City Council, from 1950 to 1958.
In 1958, blindness caused by a diabetes condition led to his retirement from the Council and the store.
Sons Edwin and Allan, who both served in the Navy during World War II, had returned in 1946 to join their father in the sporting goods store. Along with Marion, they were left in charge of the business in 1958.
In the past 20 years, family-owned and operated stores like Wissers have tried to compete with the chain stores and shopping centers. According to Marion, what the owner-operated merchants have going for them is “service, the personal touch.”
“We offer our customers a personal relationship, advice, suggestions. Little children can walk in with blank checks from their mommies to buy a ball glove or a pair of shoes and trust us to take care of it.”
But this may be the third and last generation of Wissers to run the store. According to Marion, there is no fourth generation to take up the reins.
The city has not set a date when the Wissers must move to their new temporary home.