Tuckerton Leader

Tuckerton Emporium Owners Pass Baton of Town Landmark

Historic Business Continues Under New Owners
By MARIA SCANDALE | Mar 02, 2018

The business community paid a heartfelt tribute to John and Rosemary Kumpel for more than 25 years of contribution through the Tuckerton Emporium, whose ownership the couple is turning over to new hands. The Kumpels are retiring and selling the 95-year-old business to one of the emporium’s vendors, the capable team of Charlie and Kathleen Francis.

It’s a bittersweet time for all of the Kumpels’ friends, who are for one thing touched to see John’s warm smile as he continues recovery from cancer that affected his vocal cords. But there are silver linings.

The store will go on, with renovations such as exterior paint, and the plan is for the existing vendors of the co-op to remain. There are 32 mini-enterprises within the expansive structure, offering treasures in the various rooms and nooks downstairs, and in the balcony galleries above.

Antiques, local artwork, furniture, glassware, clothing and jewelry, collectibles and religious articles join newer additions, such as the gas and woodburning fireplace showroom warming up the back. The first time in is a surprise; the next visits are to say hi and soak up the tranquil atmosphere while looking around again.

The Kumpels say they will miss it when they’re taking the time to “embrace life” and enjoy retirement at their Sweetwater home, down by the Mullica River. “The Emporium has been our life for 25 years, with our children ... and our grandchildren.” They have three children and five grandchildren.

But they feel assured that the business will be in good hands with the new owners, who are taking the reins at a time when there has been an upswing in the area economy over the past several years.

“They bought the business and the building. They’re going to leave it as The Emporium, and improve the building,” noted Rosemary.

John’s cancer hit a year after the Kumpels had purchased the landmark, and they say his illness led to his firing from Bally’s casino, where he was a craps dealer for 15 years. John knows that secondhand smoke is what caused the affliction; he did not smoke. His surgery took place at age 44; now he is 68 years old and speaks with the aid of a hand-held device. His words are always something uplifting.

The plummeting economy in 2008 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 played more havoc with the owners’ ability to make a go of the business, but they did it. Oh, and there was also the construction work for two years on Route 9 that made the business difficult to access. However, that work was to fix the nearby dam, “and thank God, the water did not come into the store during Sandy,” Rosemary added.

Both husband and wife speak often about the grace of God leading them through their trials.

“John and I for 25 years kept the business, the ‘baby,’ alive, through all adversity. By the grace of God, we were able to just keep the doors open,” Rosemary said.

“Kathleen and Charlie are stepping into a business that is successful, and they’ve got the money to tend to the building. Good things are to come. They’re going to do the building right, for the community. And John and I did the business right,” she summed up.

There’s a waiting list to get in as a vendor. One tenant has been there for 23 years, and some have stayed with the Kumpels for 10 to 15 years. South Jersey Magazine voted the shop “Best Vintage Finds for Your Shore House.”

For their sweet Cavalier King Charles spaniel, the store’s official greeter at the front door, it’s been eight years.

“He will miss this, too,” John said.

Reuben Gerber’s Dream

Adapted for the Generations

The Tuckerton Economic Development Committee honored the Kumpels at a retirement party Saturday night, Feb. 17.

Jon Miller, of Jon Miller Car Care, is chairman of the Tuckerton Economic Development Committee. His words tied the community’s feeling together – and added some legendary historical perspective on “Tuckerton’s Oldest Store.”

R.A. Gerber built Gerber’s Department Store around 1921 and modeled the store’s design after the original Macy’s in New York. The Gerber family operated the store until the 1980s and were well known for their kindness throughout the community.

“Let’s take everybody back to a snowy night literally a hundred years ago,” Miller began.

“Reuben Gerber was probably walking down 34th Street in New York City, and he just came out of Macy’s. He said, ‘I live in a land of opportunity.’

“He wanted a store like Macy’s, and asked himself, ‘Where is the best place in the world that I can build my Macy’s and make my dreams come true?’

“He chose Tuckerton. So we owe him a debt of gratitude for that.”

In 1921-22, the store was built. “Clammers got their canvas here. Linemen got their leather shoes here. Families got their furniture here, for almost a hundred years,” Miller listed. “This building has stories to tell.

“Then somewhere in history, about 1993, John and Rosemary took this building over, and they said, ‘This is our land of opportunity. We’re going to make our living here.’ And they did that for 25 years,” Miller said, with the gathering joining in applause.

“Unfortunately, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow and what life will deal you. It wasn’t a year later that John got sick. If you think about all the people in the world with all the excuses and all the problems – for seven years Rosemary, seven days a week, traveled back and forth from Philadelphia ... her loved one survived, and this business and this building survived.

“And it continues on. This is not the end of the game; we’re just turning a page.”

A plaque and certificate of recognition hailed John and Rosemary Kumpel for 25-plus years of business in the community, “surviving through good times and bad.”

“We extend a wealth of gratitude for always keeping the Tuckerton Emporium open,” the recognition said.

“We know the Kumpel family has left their mark in Tuckerton. You will be missed, and your legacy lives on.”

Rosemary thanked the customers and the vendors of the co-op. “We don’t want to take all the credit ... The success of the Emporium was also as a result of having wonderful tenants throughout the 25 years.”



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