Zeswitz – 812 Penn Street

Zeswitz
812 Penn Street pictured in 1953

Zeswitz is a music store that most Berks Countians recognize, but some of you may remember when one of the locations was in downtown Reading on the 800 block of Penn Street.

Zeswitz was founded in 1923 by Philadelphia native William “Bill” Zeswitz Sr. According to Zeswitz’s website he was, “master luthier and maker of world-class violins, and founded the company to serve the Reading Symphony Orchestra and musicians in the area.” 

The business became widely known for its rentals and school services department which was one of the first in the United States to provide such services. It is still at the forefront of the industry. Now the business is located at 100 Gibralter Road in Exeter Township.

Born and raised in Berks, I am fascinated by the style, design & culture of the mid-late 20th century. I started this website to research and build a collection of the places, things and stories I have heard about my entire life. Read more here.

10 Replies to “Zeswitz – 812 Penn Street”

  1. I believe in the earlier days, the store sold recordings of music – LPs and tapes. I don’t know how extensive their inventory was, but I had become enamored with Handel’s Water Music Suite in those days, and when I was in Vietnam, 1968-1969, I bought a reel-to-reel tape deck,which were the rage around that time, and I asked my mother if she could get a reel-to-reel tape of the recording. She went to the Zeswitz shop; the tape was ordered, and within a few weeks, a wonderful Deutsche Grammophon reel–to-reel tape of the recording was delivered, and my mother mailed it to me.

  2. My mother was a big Tommy Dorsey fan, so when I was in fourth or fifth grade she wanted me to play the trombone. We made arrangements through my school to rent one from Zeswitz. We had to take it back after we found out my arms weren’t long enough to reach the low notes. That was in 1954 or 1955.

  3. If I remember correctly, the local branch of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society held their meetings upstairs. Karen Cooper (Miss Berks County 1964) provided the music. I left for college that year and couldn’t continue. But I bought my first guitar there, and many LP’s. Great store.

  4. The store at 8th and Penn had a great gift shop, my Grandmother bought me a music box that I fell in love with, that was about 1948, still have it.

  5. Interested in seeing anything you can dig up on Eckert Bros., Zeswitz’s competition. I took trumpet lessons from John Schaeffer at their downtown location and then also when they moved out to Temple. Today, it is hard to believe my mother put me on a city bus at age 11 or 12 and let me get there and back on my own. I guess we were the original free range kids back then.

  6. I used to take piano lessons upstairs at Zeswitz from Mildred Roth around about 1960. I also learned how good greasy hamburgers with onions were off the grill at the Crystal Palace which was just up Penn Street from Zeswitz

  7. Wasn’t the Crystal Palace on South 6th Street not far from Franklin Street? The Crystal Restaurant was on Penn Street several blocks below Zeswitz.

  8. Didn’t someone sit upstairs in the window of Zeswitz and play Christmas carols that you could hear outside

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