By Gray Bostick
Oh, Brother, where art thou?
Well, if it’s Freeman Schmucker you’re looking for, you’re likely to have your best shot at finding him – and some of the most unusual and imaginative, as well as exquisitely hand-crafted, items in South Carolina – at 1040-A Broad Street in Camden, just under the sign announcing your arrival at Schmucker’s Amish General Store.
But Freeman’s not all you’ll find at Schmucker’s which, as South Carolina’s sole authentic Amish product-basd general mercantile, is filled with everything from beautiful quilts to ingenious wooden toys and puzzles to some of the most visually stunning furniture – all hand-crafted, often to custom specifications — you will ever see.
Simply put, it’s a must stop on any serious shopper’s list.
The first question, of course, is obvious: How does an Amish market wind up in central South Carolina? “That’s a long story,” laughs Schmucker, who relates that he first visited his older brother, David, who was already living in the Camden area, several years ago and, upon discovering that he enjoyed the weather, location, and, especially, the friendliness of the people, decided to stay and make South Carolina his home as well. “The people around here reminded me a lot of the people I’d known back in Ohio. I just felt real comfortable here.”
Schmucker soon found employment and settled into a Palmetto State lifestyle that he found perfectly suited his temperament.
But having left the Amish community under somewhat of a cloud, and having been estranged from his father since distancing himself from the Amish culture and its strict ways while a teen, Freeman decided to make the trip northward to see if he could reconnect with the his father, Daniel, and re-establish once-broken bonds – but on his terms, as an “outsider.” That visit proved so successful that Father Schmucker later visited South Carolina himself for Freeman’s brother’s wedding, even fulfilling a long-time wish to see the ocean for the first time during his stay in South Carolina.
One week later, Freeman received a call that his father had passed away from a heart attack. “I got a lot of comfort from the fact that we had been able to reconcile,” Freeman notes. “I know that he was at peace. And while we lost our father, his passing brought our entire family, those who were still Amish and those who weren’t, back together.”
His father’s funeral also served as an impetus of sorts as, the more Schmucker got reintegrated into the Amish ways of life, the more he and some Amish craftsmen, especially his cousin, Aden, a master furniture maker, found that the Palmetto State might prove a good market for some of their specialized and incomparable goods. Those bonds were strengthened even more when, a year or so later, Freeman married his wife, Heather, and many of his old Amish acquaintances visited South Carolina in order to attend.
With connections to his past re-established, and after a couple years of discussing and researching the idea of establishing a local Amish market, the Schmucker’s took the leap and opened Scmucker’s Amish General Store in early 2016, primarily planning to stock furniture and other basic genuine Amish hand-crafted wares.
And no place seems better suited for Schmucker’s operation than Camden, the center of South Carolina’s Revolutionary past, as Schmucker and his wife, Heather, have found both the area and its people inviting and supportive. “We were able to survive and grow thanks to a very strong first year, basically thru local support,” Scmucker says, adding that they continue to expand their product line, with new Amish craftsmen consistently offering Freeman new products to stock on his trips up north for inventory, or specialty pieces. “Every time I go up now they have new things they want me to carry,” he notes with a chuckle.
But with all of the neat and unique items available, it is perhaps the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and creativity that goes into their furniture that is the most astounding aspect of Schmucker’s. In addition to some of the most beautiful – and beautifully crafted – items you’ve ever seen, from dining tables, to bedroom sets, to tables of all types and sizes, they also carry specialty items such as a family heirloom-worthy high-chair that also converts into a rockin’ horse or a child’s writing desk. The wood working marvels don’t stop with the merely functional, however, as Schmucker’s also offers a wide collection of hand-carved wooden toys and puzzles.
Other Amish specialties made available by Schmucker’s are hickory-spindle rockers, with the bark still attached to portions of the wood, custom-made to perfectly contour to your back, which dare you to take a seat, and then challenge you to leave it, as well as hand-woven baskets and beautiful hand-stitched quilts. They also carry a large selection of Amish-produced cheeses, meats, jellies and preserves, relishes, candies and other tasty treats, in addition to handmade candles and health and beauty products.
While not exactly an item that brings the Amish to mind, one of the most popular items available thru Schmucker’s has been outdoor Polywood furniture, lawn lounge and upright chairs for both adults and the little ones, which come in a variety of colors to match either your decor or that of your favorite team. “Our Polywood chairs are made out of recycled milk jugs,” Freeman explains, proudly adding that they are produced by one of his Amish sisters and her husband, and noting that they come with a 20-year warranty. “All you have to do is wash them off and you’re ready.”
Schmucker’s also pays tribute to the role horses play in the Amish lifestyle, as well as the equestrian interests of the Camden area, by carrying a wide selection of leather goods, such as halters, harnesses, lead ropes, and other equine needs, as well as more pedestrian men and women’s goods such as wallets and belts, and even pet collars.
In short, there’s something for everyone at Schmucker’s Amish General Store. And if you don’t see something you’re looking for, just ask. “We take a lot of custom orders,” Freeman, who embodies the old Amish adage that “one who greets the sunrise with enthusiasm may expect satisfaction at sunset,” says, adding that simple measurements or a photo are often enough for a custom piece to be constructed.
“We invite everyone to stop in and visit with us and, if they don’t see what they want, let us know what they need. Nothing makes me happier than delivering a piece of my Amish history to this area and all of our new friends.”
Schmucker’s Amish General Store: Come for the unique shopping, but return for the friendship.
Schmucker’s Amish General Store is located at 1040-A Broad Street in Camden, and is open Tuesday thru Saturday, from 10 am until 6 pm…803-729-8542
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