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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Barry Schwartz, the owner of the popular B.J. Pumpernickel’s restaurant, which closed nearly a decade ago, died Oct. 1 at age 76. He will be remembered as the man behind the apron, with a larger-than-life personality and a heart to match.
Schwartz, of Silver Spring, operated the New York-style delicatessen from 1989 to 2010 at the Olney Town Center shopping center, now the site of Harris Teeter in the renamed Fair Hill shopping center.
The restaurant closed in January 2010 due to the center’s renovation and the expiration of its lease.
Many area residents express fond memories of Pumpernickel’s — the pickle bar, the caricatures on the walls, the ‘mile-high cakes’ and more often than not, Schwartz himself sitting in the front booth, always ready to heartily greet his customers.
When B.J. Pumpernickel’s closed, it was more than an Olney landmark that was lost. Schwartz was a beloved member of the community, who offered his support to every event or organization that asked.
A few months after the restaurant closed, Schwartz was the subject of a roast held at the Olney Theatre, organized by a committee of community leaders.
More than 400 people attended. Schwartz and his wife were presented a financial gift, which they used to take a cruise.
Paula Schwartz, his wife of 53 years, said her husband always considered the Olney community to be his family.
“Going to work was like coming home for him,” she said. “He felt that it was so important to give back.”
Paula Schwartz said Barry’s funeral service, held on Oct. 4, was very well attended.
“So many people came and there was plenty of food, so he would have been pleased,” she said. “It really was a celebration of his life.”
A legacy of generosity
When Schwartz announced that the restaurant was closing, long-time Sandy Spring resident, Delmas Wood expressed disbelief that the institution was coming to an end.
“God sent a man to Olney to lift up the spirit of a community that was going through a lot of change, Barry Schwartz,” he said in an article published in The Olney Gazette in 2009. “He captured the hearts of all people because they knew that he cared for and loved them. He was a friend to all people and he never met a stranger. He has given his all to this community and I do not believe he will ever be replaced.”
Ten years later, community leaders are still echoing those sentiments.
“Barry was a leader of the Olney business community,” said Virginia Mauk, former executive director of the Olney Chamber of Commerce. “He was a reliable and valuable resource to other business owners and so highly regarded among his peers that he was named Olney Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year with his partner Jerry Gurewitz not once, but twice, in 1992 and 1998. There was never a cause he didn’t support and his enthusiasm for the community was contagious.”
Local veterinarian Wendy Walker worked closely with Schwartz on numerous projects, including the establishment of the Olney police satellite station.
“I always called him the mile-high man with a mile-high heart,” she said.
Walker chaired the Olney Chamber of Commerce’s Crime Prevention Committee and said if it were not for Schwartz’s generosity and vision, Olney may not have gotten its satellite station.
“At the time, there was no police presence here at all,” she said. “He was so instrumental and encouraging in making that a reality.”
Walker organized Olney’s first National Night Out celebration and Schwartz provided the food.
“You know I only serve kosher hot dogs, not the cheap ones,” Walker said that he told her.
“He just kept feeding the world,” Walker said. “He’d provide food for every event and he loved doing it. He never said no. He was such a supporter of every single community function.”
Debbie Harner, former executive director of the MGH Health Foundation, called Schwartz “a gem.”
“Losing B.J. Pumpernickel’s in Olney was a huge loss for the hospital and all charitable organizations in our area,” she said. “Barry was the first to sign up for first capital campaign when Pete Monge started as [hospital] president in 1991. The second campaign, which was larger, Barry was right there to support. For any hospital event, Barry was there for us. I can’t say enough about him and his family — he was a very generous man.”
Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department (SSFVD) also benefitted from Schwartz’s generosity.
When the new Station 4 was built on Brooke Road, Schwartz was the exclusive caterer for the Oak Room. He hosted many events, including popular jazz breakfasts each Sunday.
“He oversaw everything that took place and had to put on the ‘Barry touch’ to make sure everything was perfect,” SSVFD president Johnie Roth said.
He also provided food for numerous department events.
“We made him an honorary member,” Roth said. “He was frugal and generous. He was a character. He was a great friend not just to the fire department, but to the whole community. He was a legend — an Olney icon — and he will leave a big hole in our hearts.”
In addition to Paula, Schwartz is survived by his children, Marc (Nicole), Dorie and Adam (Kelly), and four grandchildren.
The family requests that memorial donations be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation, 1359 Broadway, Suite 1509 New York, NY 10018.
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