Marilyn Schmidt Closes Landmark Buzby’s General Store in the Heart of the Pines

By PAT JOHNSON | Jun 21, 2017
Photo by: Pat Johnson Writer Marilyn Schmidt with Lady Cat in her Buzby’s General Store, the Chatsworth landmark, before it closed.

“I have so many things to do yet,” said Marilyn Schmidt in a telephone interview as she prepared to downsize her life and close Buzby’s General Store in Chatsworth.

Schmidt moved to Chatsworth from Barnegat Light 18 years ago and she has loved every minute of it –except for last year that she spent in and out of hospital. Now in a wheelchair, Schmidt is hoping to sell her property so she can move to an assisted living arrangement, but she will stay in the apartment over the store until then, she said on Friday. “Thank God for friends and I have wonderful neighbors.”

“When I moved here 18 years ago from Barnegat Light the people here were horrified. They said, ‘We all want to move there someday.’ But I love living in the pines. It’s so peaceful and quiet, except for the Cranberry Festival; that’s total chaos.

“It’s lovely country and I’ve been well accepted. When I put out a booklet, ‘Piney Talk,’ I was afraid I would offend the locals, but it was the opposite. They loved it!”

Schmidt has two publishing companies, Barnegat Light Press and the Pine Barrens Press, and she has self-published over 60 titles, most of them small booklets on cooking seafood and on pinelands lore. “Good recipes, books on the Pines and gardening have been very popular. Most have sold out and I’ve reprinted a couple – pretty amazing for a one-person publishing firm.

“I’ve just published another booklet on the Clevengers. They did pressed glass and commemorative bottles such as the Batsto bottles, herbs and flowers and buildings and they were born in Chatsworth.

“I’m also working on a book about the deer hunting clubs in the Pines. I’ve been researching that and there are over 200.”

Living in Chatsworth, known as the heart of the pines, has been her inspiration.

The Wade-Buzby general store was built and opened in 1865. For many years it was the place to gather for those living in the Pine Barrens. It was built by Benjamin Wade and sold items from cold cuts to shot gun shells and everything in between. It was sold to Willis Jefferson Buzby in 1894 and he ran it with his wife Kate until 1972. Schmidt purchased the store in 1997 when she was 70 and opened it with a café in 1999.

“It took me almost two years to renovate the building and I was able to get it on the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Sites,” said Schmidt. She took classes at Burlington County College because professionally she was trained as a druggist in pharmacology. “I had to learn a new ‘architecture’ vocabulary, so I worked and worked, and once I got it on the state registry the national was easy because I had already done all the work. Bob Craig is the head of it and he came out here and he fell in love with it.”

Schmidt said her apartment above the store overlooks the whole town. “We need a café here. I still have the full commercial kitchen and the board of health approved a 32-seat café. I rented the café to two different people, but the first one said she couldn’t cook and she couldn’t,” said Schmidt. “The second one was a good cook and he was building a business. He had people waiting for a table on Sunday mornings.”

The “Pines Baron,” singer/songwriter Jim Murphy wrote about Buzby’s in his “Chatsworth Town” song, said Schmidt. “He came in and we chatted. He was a wonderful man, he died too young. His music is still sold at the Albert Brothers Hall in Waretown.”

Like Murphy and others devoted to the unique region of the Pine Barrens, Schmidt has left her mark. “I’ll be sorry to leave. I’d like to stay in the pines, but so it goes.”

She goes for dialysis three times a week and has a pacemaker and a new aortic heart valve. “I got into some trouble on May 21 of last year and had to call 911. I was in the hospital rehab until Labor Day. I had 10 operatic procedures, four were local and six were general anesthesia. I had a cardiologist, but he didn’t explain to me the seriousness of my condition. I knew I had kidney failure after a bad reaction to a drug given to visualize the brain. Well, it’s patch and mend now just to keep everything going.”

Linda and Jim Stanton, the founders and promoters of the annual “Lines on the Pines,” a Pinelands cultural festival, helped Schmidt prepare for Buzby’s final sale on Saturday. And on Saturday, Buzby’s General Store was again the heart of the pines as people crammed the gift shop and waited on the porch.

Thomas Kinsella, director of the South Jersey Culture and History Center, the publisher of Sojourn, a quarterly magazine devoted to South Jersey, said he was there to support Schmidt’s decision to close the store. “She’s an amazing person with an author’s mind. To think that she has published close to 70 books. I use her and John McPhee as examples for my students – to write about what you love and know.”

“It’s sad to see Buzby’s closing, but it will be lovely to see it reopen,” he added. Schmidt has the store and property for sale.

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

 

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