Since 1948, Breit’s Kitchen and Bath in the Gordon Square District has helped homeowners perfect their dream home. That chapter officially closed as of the 13th of February when Bob Breitenbach cleared out the last of the business’ belongings. He sat down with the Plain Press to remember his family business’ years serving Cleveland.
Breit’s was founded by WWII veteran Ernest Breitenbach, who made breakfast nooks and upholstered them in the back of Buehner’s Office Supply store. Being a naturally gifted tradesman, Ernie was asked by the customers to create tabletops. This was a long process until Cleveland Plywood came to Ernie and asked him if he thought contact cement, which had just come out, would speed the process. “It transformed this business from where he would make one top every three days to one every three hours,” Bob, Ernie’s youngest son, recounted.
Once the countertops proved to be successful, Ernie quit making breakfast nooks and focused on formica tabletops. In the 50s, he was able to move his business into its own building on Detroit Road and hired a crew. It was a different world back then, according to Bob: “This place was a tinderbox. They’re lucky it didn’t burn down. Everybody smoked. These guys would be cutting wood and smoking at the same time.”
As the business grew, Ernie was able to expand, and in the early sixties they started making birch cabinets and serving customers all along the west side. Ernie and his family originally lived near W. 80th and Lake but eventually settled in North Olmsted. Yet his business stayed in the same spot on Detroit Avenue. Ernie was a skilled craftsman and good businessman, but running the business was always a learning experience. “We wrecked a lot of Formica. Believe me. But it was cheap for us,” Bob recalled.
Ernie retired in the late seventies and passed the business to his son, Art. It was a family business which included family squabbles, but Ernie never let this disrupt the business or sever family ties. Art ran the business with Bob until 2012, when Art sold his share of the business to Bob, who has maintained sole ownership since then. There’s still business to be had, but Bob says he is ready to retire: “I’m not sad to leave. I’m done,” he said.
He remembers a lot about the surrounding neighborhood before the gentrification. There were many places that had burned down under mysterious circumstances or businesses that did not seem on the level. But he loved serving the customers, no matter where they were: “Mrs. Johnson out in Avon Lake- really liked working for them. Mrs. Powell in Fairview Park- all very nice people.”
Bob is finishing up his final project in a home in Fairview Park, and then he is done. But he’s not going away. He will stay in the area with his family to enjoy his retirement. Many buildings in the area have been razed to make way for new ones; but the property from which Breit’s remodeled so many businesses and homes will remain intact. A developer will be renovating the century-old former showroom, allowing local businesses to move in such as the women’s clothing store Yellowcake Shop. So, the building will continue to stand as a legacy of Ernie Breitenbach’s dedication to the west side and as a reminder of the hard work and loyalty which sustained the neighborhood through the years.
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