Article By Jack Scism written for the Greensboro News & Record dated May 25, 1990
Jeff Schwarz, who recently bought the historic Revolution Cotton Mill in Greensboro, is not your typical businessman.
The 49-year-old Schwarz owns “a couple of hundred buildings’ in more than 40 states, has a giant mobile home park under construction north of Asheboro, is planning a restaurant to seat 1,000 in Greensboro and recently agreed to spend $12 million to produce a movie.He does it all with startling informality.
He is spending Memorial Day weekend motorcycling to Kentucky on his Harley Davidson. He normally oversees his empire from a frame house on N.C. 49 in southwest Asheboro, where Herman, a pet bantam rooster, scratches on the gravel driveway outside, and Two Cents, a parrot, perches on a cage next to Schwarz’s desk.
He works, usually with his shirttail hanging out and never with a tie, in a building that has undergone so many additions as to lose any resemblance to its original design. One addition was for a weight room, where the 290-pound Schwarz exercises under direction of a professional trainer. Another expansion houses a garage for a Rolls Royce and a stretch limousine that he uses when he isn’t driving his truck or motorcycle.
Schwarz declines to speculate on his net worth. He says he would be much wealthier if he were not twice divorced, the last occurring a year ago. Each divorce cost him a bundle, he says. Even now, he’s buying back property that went to the ex-wives in settlement, he says. He estimates he owns more than 5 million square feet of rental property around the country.
This is not braggadocio, acquaintances say.
Three different bankers use almost identical words to describe their relationship with Schwarz. If he tells them he will do something, he does it, they said last week.
“From a business standpoint, he has been totally above board,’ said Ted Matney, chairman of Greensboro-based Bankers Trust of North Carolina. “He always does what he says he’s going to do.’
Greensboro contractor Frank Auman, who has known Schwarz since they attended high school together in Asheboro, says “Jeff is about as honest a person as you will find. If he tells you something, you can bank on it.’
John Schwarz, 43, a Greensboro resident and a partner in the Revolution Mills venture, admiringly describes his brother as “the best legitimate hustler around. He’s always been buying and selling and hustling.’
Schwarz has accountants and lawyers on retainer. But at his Asheboro office, Schwarz relies primarily on one full-time bookkeeper and his own memory to keep up with his business.
Banker Matney thinks Schwarz has a photographic memory. “It’s amazing what he keeps in his head,’ he said.
“Anybody else would have two or three people in the office keeping up with what he keeps in his mind,’ Auman said.
The Revolution Mill acquisition was Jeff Schwarz’s third purchase in Greensboro in the past year. He, John Schwarz and two others bought Jonathon’s Restaurant near Randleman Road and I-85 in south Greensboro about six months ago. More recently, the two brothers bought the 8,400-square-foot Foster Caviness building at 609 Eugene Court near downtown Greensboro.
Jeff Schwarz and High Point businessman Wayne McDonald also are planning a 20,000-square-foot “country-style’ restaurant just south of Greensboro off I-85 in partnership with a High Point businessman. The restaurant will cater to families, offering square dancing with no alcoholic beverages served.
Meanwhile, he’s developing a 362-space mobile home park north of Asheboro that will require three miles of paved roads to reach all the spaces. Schwarz thinks it will “be the largest park in two or three states,’ he said.
But his most daring business venture may be the motion picture, “Survival of the Fittest.’ His interest in movie-making was sparked by actor Paul DeAngelo, a longtime friend who will be the movie’s co-star. The producer will be Fred Caruso, who did “Casualties of War’ and is working on the film version of Tom Wolfe’s best-seller, “Bonfire of the Vanities.’
Most of the movie will be shot in New Jersey and New York, with some scenes to take place in the Triad as a courtesy to Schwarz. His name is expected to be listed on the credits as “executive producer.’
Jeff Schwarz has been in Asheboro since 1954 when his father, Lawrence, moved south from New York to open a small factory making children’s western wear clothing. At first, the Jewish family encountered some anti-Semitism from local residents. But he said the area has outgrown that prejudice.
Schwarz had dyslexia, a reading impairment, and he dropped out of high school. Still, he knew what he would do with his life. He loved to buy and sell things – anything as long as he could turn at least some profit.
Even today, he said, he can’t resist going to flea markets where he can trade goods with other dealers. A room has been added to his Asheboro office to store second-hand goods that he picks up at fire-sale prices, often from tenants, and then trades to flea market dealers.
Schwarz went into business for himself in 1964 when he opened an outlet store. Then he began buying old houses, fixing them up and renting them. Today he owns 50 to 60 rental houses in Asheboro.
“He has a knack for taking old buildings nobody else will buy and making something out of them,’ said a Randolph County banker, who asked to remain anonymous. “He doesn’t pay top dollar but he does pay cash and he gets them way below market price.’
The banker cited one of Schwarz’s early successes, an old mill building at Coleridge in southeastern Randolph County. The building had been empty for a long time until Schwarz acquired it. He cleaned it up on the inside and quickly recovered his money by leasing it to a company needing storage space.
Schwarz began to branch out to other states by building post offices for long-term lease to the U.S. Postal Service. As other opportunities came along, he snapped them up. He converted an old factory in Randleman into a giant flea market.
Two years ago, he paid $690,000 at auction for two aging plants of the bankrupt United Globe Furniture in Lexington. The plants had 464,000 square feet of space. Today one plant is almost fully leased by companies who use it for storage, and negotiations are under way to finish filling the other.
The Schwarz brothers expect to fill Revolution Mills with tenants needing storage, light manufacturing or office space.
They paid about $1.5 million for the 750,000-square-foot cotton mill complex, which was built near the turn of the century. The mills ultimately became the nation’s largest exclusive flannel producer and contributed to Greensboro’s rapid growth in the first 40 years of this century.
Jeff Schwarz tries to keep his business dealings simple, his brother said. By buying buildings at bargain prices, he then can offer them at low enough rent that tenants will be responsible for interior maintenance and he will have only the exterior to keep up, John Schwarz explained. Thus he does not have a lot of maintenance headaches to contend with.
Schwarz says success in business runs in the family, proudly citing his four sons by his first marriage. Mark, 26, and Billy, 21, already have manufacturing businesses in Asheboro. Todd, 22, is a certified public accountant in Charlotte. And Timmy, a high school senior, already owns a couple of small businesses, he said.
“I love doing business,’ Schwarz said. “I don’t care if it’s a small deal or a large deal. I’ve been hustling and buying and selling stuff since I was 13-14.”