For many, many years, every time a patient entered Dr. Harvey Edelman’s private dental practice in Fox Chase, they were greeted with a nice, warm smile — and they left with one, too. You didn’t need to be related by blood to Edelman or the Giordano sisters to feel like part of the family. It’s just how they did business for more than a half-century. Every six months, it was like a family reunion.
The cozy three-chair practice has finally closed after 55 years of operating at the corner of Verree Road and Solly Avenue. Edelman, who opened his doors in 1965, has opted to retire at the age of 83.
“I came out of the Army and was looking to work here in Philadelphia,” Edelman recalled. “I got a job working with a dentist right away in Mayfair but he wasn’t ready for a partner. So I looked around and found this office here. I turned it into a dental office in September of 1965.”
After graduating from Temple University in 1962, Edelman served active duty for two years as a dentist at Fort Hood in Texas, treating West Point officers and helicopter pilots who were heading off to Vietnam.
Upon returning to the East Coast, Edelman originally split time, working for the City of Philadelphia while starting up his own practice, pulling double duty for about five years.
“Gradually, I worked for the city for five years, treating children at the health centers in the mornings,” Edelman said. “I’d come up here on my lunch breaks, three nights (a week) and Saturdays until 1970. I was by myself for a while, then I was finally able to start hiring a few assistants and hygienists and it took off.”
A trio of sisters from St. Jerome Parish certainly helped it take flight.
In May 1971, Annette (Giordano) Rothermel walked through the door and landed a job as an 18-year-old dental assistant and quickly began taking care of the administrative work in the office.
Three years later, 14-year-old Dorthea (Giordano) Czarnik obtained her working papers and rode the bus from St. Hubert High School to help out in the office, filing away papers and charts. She worked part-time throughout high school and college and later became a hygienist upon receiving her degree.
“This is my first and only job,” Czarnik said with a laugh. “When I graduated from University of Pennsylvania for dental hygiene, I became full-time as the hygienist and I’ve been here since.”
Around the same time Czarnik began clocking 40 hours a week in 1981, middle sister Mary Anne (Giordano) LoPresto made it 3-for-3 by leaving her job with the IRS to work as a part-time assistant and eventually full-time.
Suddenly, the Giordano sisters had Edelman badly outnumbered.
“He didn’t realize who he was dealing with,” Rothermel said. “It was a family of Italian girls. It took a long time for us to train him. He thought he was ‘all-that’ as the boss and it took awhile for us to knock him down.”
It was part of the charm patients would witness on a semiannual checkup. Three outspoken sisters had the opportunity to gang up on Edelman, but most office disagreements usually ended up in a 2-2 draw with some comical banter. At the end of the day, everyone went home happy.
“We really should have charged 10 percent extra for the entertainment,” LoPresto said. “There would be a lot of nonsense but it would put people at ease.”
There were others, including longtime worker Roseanne Cipolla Walsh, who started as an assistant and filled in on weekends on occasion, and many other dental assistants passed through the doors as the three sisters remained.
“Our mother worked here, too,” Rothermel said. “She would fill in on weekends sometimes with filing papers. And there was a flood one time, and our parents came and helped clean the place up.”
It was all hands on deck.
But as all good things must come to an end, so, too, did the business in July. Edelman had planned to work at least through the end of the year before retiring, and Rothermel was hopeful of completing 50 years in 2021, but COVID-19 altered plans because of safety concerns. The office saw its last patient in the spring — nearly 55 years after it saw its first.
“I was thinking about working until the end of the year,” Edelman said. “But the virus was too much to overcome to deliver safe dental treatment.”
After living in Abington for 52 years, Edelman recently moved to an apartment building in Center City near 18th and JFK Boulevard with his wife, Faith, of 58 years, to be closer to the arts and classical music that the happy couple enjoys so much.
Rothermel and LoPresto will also enjoy retirement while helping out with grandchildren. Czarnik will continue the family tradition by working alongside her daughter Alexandria and niece Stephanie (LoPresto’s daughter) as hygienists for Dr. David Recigno on Davisville Road in Willow Grove, where Edelman has referred his patients.
“It’s always going to be a different dynamic,” Czarnik said. “But I love what I do, so why would I want to give that up? I’m up for new things.”
Patients who received the bad news of the closing over the summer sent warm wishes by mail.
“You should see the cards and notes I’m getting from our patients,” Edelman said. “It’s really wonderful. People don’t always like coming to the dentist but they liked coming here because of them and because of me.”
And the door swings both ways. There have been many occasions when Edelman and his workers have sent their regards and well wishes when a longtime patient fell ill. It’s like they were part of the extended family.
“We knew we weren’t going to be here forever,” LoPresto said. “And all these people meant a lot to us. We just wish we had the chance to say goodbye.” ••