Ralph Schremp

Friends, family fondly remember Cranbury bookseller

By: Stacey Gorski
   There is a hole in the lives of the friends of Ralph Schremp, 56, as well as in the lives of patrons and employees of his bookstore, the Cranbury Bookworm.
   Mr. Schremp died April 18. He is survived by his wife, Ann Hirschman Schremp; two sons, James and Edward; a daughter-in-law, Venus; and a granddaughter, Alizza.
   Bookstore employees and customers said they will remember him with fondness and a sense of emptiness.
   "I keep watching the (security) monitor and looking out the window expecting to see him carrying a box of books and jingling his keys," said Barbara Hughes, an employee of nine years, as she sat working the bookstore’s register Thursday. "It’s quiet in here now. Usually, there are people debating something and even yelling at each other or laughing at a joke."
   Mr. Schremp, who moved to Cranbury and opened the bookstore 30 years ago, is remembered by friends and book-buying associates as a unique man of strong intellectual makeup who lived an active life without any flair for showmanship or a desire to draw attention to himself.
   "Both he and his wife are independent-minded people," said Bill Kanawyer, a fellow Cranbury resident and frequent customer at the bookstore. "He was not a big joiner, which is uncommon for Cranburians, who usually are involved in community service and organizations."
   Instead of investing time in traditional social clubs or organizations, Mr. Schremp kept up several hobbies, including organic farming, photography and, the most important, book hunting and finding.
   His interests all seemed to intersect at his bookstore, where his photographs and vegetables are unobtrusively included for sale along with stacks of rare books, antiques, art, collectibles and even candles.
   "There are really no other stores like it — the amount of stuff, always new stuff — something to surprise you," Ms. Hughes said.
   Customers from near and far have come to count on the innumerable items Mr. Schremp included on his store shelves and counter tops.
   "Every year, we counted on a wide variety of vegetables and maple syrup and occasionally honey, though I am not sure that he even kept bees," said Mr. Kanawyer.
   As for his photography, most of his work focuses on nature, though in October he took photos of ground zero.
   "He didn’t take a separate trip in to do that," said Zutlan Braz, an employee at the store. "He just took them along the way to class."
   At the time, Mr. Schremp was participating in an appraiser’s certificate course at New York University. Even his photography hobby was relatively new, something he started about 10 years ago.
   A graduate of Rahway High School, with a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s degree from Trenton State College, he never lost interest in reading, learning and debating.
   "He really could talk to anybody about almost anything," said Mr. Braz.
   Mr. Schremp’s willingness to hold discussions on any topic has made him a good number of friends who share his passion for books.
   "He was very charismatic, always outgoing, but very unique. This store is very relaxing. It is an island of serenity in a world of insanity," said Ron Karpin of Freehold, who shops at the store at least once a week.
   Mr. Kanawyer, too, sees intrinsic value in Mr. Schremp’s life work.
   "His store is one of the finest secondhand shops in the U.S. Having lived on both coasts and traveled widely, I say that as an incurable book addict. I hope the family finds some way to continue this store," Mr. Kanawyer said. "It is, to use a modern term, an anchor store for the small businesses in Cranbury. It has all the appearances of success and is a valuable resource. That is how he contributed, as a resource, rather than in a showy or ostentatious way."
   A memorial service for Mr. Schremp will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Princeton at 50 Cherry Hill Road and Route 206.