The entrepreneur who grew her grandmother’s appliance business into a $10 million success story is taking the family business into the future with a whole new level of enterprise that is expected to bring new jobs and new energy to the Route 1 corridor in Lawrence Township.
Debbie Schaeffer is the third-generation female business owner and CEO of , which has become a landmark in its four decades of business on the Route 1 corridor between Princeton and Trenton.
Schaeffer is ready to carry out a vision she shared with her grandmother, Beatrice Greenberg, the original Mrs. G, by overseeing the redevelopment of the existing store and its surrounding 11 acres into a state-of-the-art retail and community center that will be called Lawrence Commons.
Schaeffer is working with developer P. Shields Ferber, president of the Ferber Co., a Juno Beach, Fla., company that has commercial operations in New Jersey. Details are still being ironed out, but a potential start date for construction has been proposed for late 2013, with the entire project expected to take up to two years to complete.
“We’ve always had this vision to rebuild a new Mrs. G either on its own or as a part of a bigger development,” said Schaeffer, who explains that she went into something called a ground lease with the developer, which means that her family will maintain ownership of the land and has control over what kind of retail outlets will come in.
“We are retailers, not developers, so we needed an expert to develop the property. It’s a land lease that shows the sensitivity of our family business to the loyalty to the community and our long-term commitment to its well-being. We want to maintain the family concept to service those who are already here and also welcome newcomers to the Mrs. G tradition.”
The property being considered for redevelopment sprawls over 11 acres along the northbound side of Route 1 (Brunswick Pike), south of the traffic light at Bakers Basin Road.
The land is presently occupied by the current Mrs. G store, an abandoned diner nearby, another commercial building located between the diner and the Lawrenceville Ford, Lincoln, Mercury auto dealership, and three homes behind the current Mrs. G store that are currently unoccupied. All would eventually be demolished in favor of new construction.
Schaeffer says 2012 has been a successful year for the business that her grandparents started in 1935 and the proposed Lawrence Commons is part of her long-term plans for the business.
“We see this as an exciting opportunity to design a state-of-the-art store and continue the Mrs. G tradition of community and customer service,” she said. “We plan to expand on our current operations, making it a destination retail showroom with an extensive culinary arts program.”
In recent weeks, Lawrence Township has been abuzz with rumors of such a development being on the horizon, with the whispers including mention of potential tenants like a Wawa with a gas station, a McDonald’s and a TD Bank branch.
While she would not confirm specific tenants since discussions are ongoing, Schaeffer revealed “we do have interest from a major fast food chain, financial institution, convenience store, and other diverse, appealing tenants.”
She also said the developer is working hard with the New Jersey Department of Transportation to design improvements to the traffic patterns in the area, including changes to the existing jug handle at the intersection of Route 1 and Bakers Basin Road. The intention is to improve the traffic flow for both the new development and motorists passing through the area.
“We want to create a destination retail experience made up of wonderful stores that will serve as a gorgeous entrance into the wonderful community of Lawrence,” Schaeffer said. “It will bring lots of jobs in construction and retail and be a nice gathering place for families to come to shop, eat, and enjoy themselves.”
While Schaeffer makes her home in Princeton, she is very much involved with the community around the store. She sits on the board of the Lawrence chapter of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as the board of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. She also participates with Sustainable Lawrence, which works to promote energy efficiency for residents and businesses and protect the environment.
She is also a board member of the Arts Council of Princeton and is active with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She also recently entered Mrs. G into a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
“When our customers upgrade their appliances, they can choose to have their existing appliances taken by Habitat for Humanity to be recycled and refurbished and sold to people who could not otherwise afford new appliances,” explained Schaeffer.
Schaeffer is the proud mother of twin daughters, both now in college, so she is especially tuned into the needs and interests of families.
Schaeffer confirmed her intent for the current store to remain open during construction. She says that her grandmother, who passed away just two years ago, would have been excited about the plans for her store and her land.
“I talked about it with her all the time,” says Schaeffer. “She loved the fact that I loved the business, and she would have been so proud to see us taking the family tradition into the future with such a sense of innovation and community. She would have loved to have been a part of this.”