Berger Realty celebrates 100 years in business
LEON Grisbaum seems perfectly at ease as he strolls into the Berger Realty office at 3160 Asbury. on an early spring morning.
He’s checking the market on his smart phone before joking with an agent who could be his grandson. This year, Berger Realty celebrates a century in operation, and amazingly enough, Leon has been a central part of it for most of those years.
Edgar and Estelle Berger founded the firm in 1920.
“Mr. Grisbaum worked for them, and after Mr. Berger passed away, he worked for Mrs. Berger,” said Frank Shoemaker, the broker of record for the firm and the general manager. “He comes in daily. He is still very engaged in the business. There is not a decision that is made without him being a part of it.”
When Leon started with the business, few houses had yet been built in the south end of the island.
“Everybody used to rent for the season. It was a big deal when they rented for a half season. Right now, they’re pretty much weekly,” Frank said.
The interview starts in an upstairs conference room at the office. On the wall above a long conference table hangs three color photos, one of the Bergers in front of the building, another of Leon and his wife, and a third of the late Chip Collins, a well-known figure in Ocean City real estate and Berger’s general manager before his death in 2011.
Things shift gears when Leon arrives.
“Let’s try to catch him,” said Frank. After an introduction, the interview continues in Leon’s office, where his desk is piled with reports and paperwork and the walls and shelves decorated with family photos, historic photos of Ocean City and multiple images of planes, including a painting of Leon’s beloved twin-engine Beechcraft Barron.
Flying has long been a passion for Leon, who said he would often fly his family to Florida for a weekend or surprise clients by delivering a sales contract to New York or Pennsylvania within hours of reaching an agreement by phone.
“Everybody used to rent for the season. It was a big deal when they rented for a half season. Right now, they’re pretty much weekly”Frank Shoemaker – Broker of record and general manager for Berger
One of his staff members is working on getting his pilot’s license now, but things are far different than when Leon started. It’s a longer and more expensive process now. He enjoyed the freedom of flying in the days before pilots were obliged to file flight plans and stick to prescribed routes.
“When I started, you could fly anywhere you wanted. Just fly,” he said.
Leon seemed happy to talk about the old days, how he got started in Ocean City real estate and the history of a century-old company. But he also keeps looking forward, leading a company that once ran on carbon paper and filing cabinets into the digital age. Berger has a full-time IT manager, he said, who also helps Leon keep up to date, including on his smart phone.
“I was better five years ago than I believe I am now. They keep on changing things,” he said.
“He’s better than most of us, to be honest with you,” Frank added.
Leon grew up in Upper Darby. He was still in his teens when his father moved the family to Ocean City.
“My father was a dentist and in 1949, that was after the Second World War, he decided he didn’t want to be a dentist anymore,” he said. “He had the foresight to think that real estate was the thing to be in.”
See the full story in the May issue here – flip to page 38.