Harold Shumacher traveled a circuitous road from high school teacher to a key player in Atlanta’s commercial real estate industry.
He arrived in 1970 from his Muskegon, Mich., hometown to teach social studies. He began his evolution to real estate through a back door with a visit to the Atlanta Gazette, an alternative newspaper sited across the street from where he and wife Nancy Nolan were living in Virginia-Highland.
She recalls he walked into the Gazette’s offices and said that he wanted to write for them. “They said, ‘You can write about television or food.’ He chose food.”
It was a natural path.
Shumacher’s passion for cuisine of all kinds was legendary. Peter Kruskamp said his father-in-law told him “Some people play golf. I eat.”
He later worked for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a restaurant critic. He moved into restaurant consulting after a plea for help from a newspaper contact, who asked for aid in opening a restaurant. The experience caused Shumacher to realize he could make more money in real estate, so he apprenticed at The Shopping Center Group before heading on his own in 1987.
He and several partners at the Shumacher Group staked out territory as a boutique firm, handling site selection for restaurant and retail tenants and facilitating the sale of both land and existing properties. That could make for high-stakes contract talks involving clients ranging from Bruster’s to Golden Corral to Legal Seafood, but Nolan said, “When you sat at the table to negotiate with him, he wanted the best for both sides.”
Shumacher, 72, died of a blood disease April 25. He’s survived by his wife, Nancy Nolan, his daughter Stephanie Kruskamp and Peter Kruskamp, two sisters and three grandchildren. His body was cremated and a private service was held. A public celebration of life is tentatively planned later.
Shumacher’s success was grounded in who he was He had a gift for always leaving a roomful of people feeling better for his visit.
“He always had a big smile,” said Munir Meghjani, a commercial real estate broker, friend and mentee.
“He’d quietly observe, then swing into action. He knew who he was going to talk to and what was being talked about. And he was a good listener. When he left an event he had probably met 90 percent of the people there. And all those people felt heard from and valued.”
Social pecking orders didn’t matter to him.
“We’d be at a conference and would have been out to dinner with bigwigs, real estate developers. And the Uber driver who took us back to the hotel would feel as good and valuable as the people we’d just had dinner with,” Peter Kruskamp said.
“He was always able to step back from the deal and say ‘Here’s where the sellers need to be. And here’s where we need to be,” Kruskamp said. “He would say ‘Put yourself on the seller’s side. What are they trying to do?’” Both sides would generally come away satisfied.
The breadth of his knowledge of the local market also set him apart and served him well when Verizon Wireless came to call.
As Nolan tells it, Verizon managers were interviewing big real estate firms who could scout Atlanta sites for them. But they weren’t satisfied with the firms’ knowledge of the market. A chamber of commerce contact put Verizon’s top executive in touch with Shumacher. As an apparent test, “The president called him and said ‘Do you know what’s on the corner of such-and-such and what properties are around it?’ Harold knew and the big companies didn’t,” Nolan said. He got the work.
Shumacher’s passions extended to civic involvements such as the Interfaith Community Initiatives, a group that builds connections among religions. That’s how he and Meghjani got acquainted.
The two met in Turkey during one of the group’s pilgrimages to a variety of countries. “The first thing he ever said to me was ‘You represent 1.6 billion Muslims, and I represent 15 million Jews, and we’ll figure out how to solve these problems.’ “
Meghjani said Shumacher also sought understanding on a more informal level, putting together what he dubbed as “save the world dinners” where he’d invite folks from all walks of life to gather at a restaurant, chow down and then debate the issues of the day and life in general.
Shumacher also delighted in bringing family, friends and associates to an eatery where he knew not only the best item on the menu but the restaurant’s back story. Invariably, the chef or owner would emerge from the kitchen to shoot the breeze.
“The meals weren’t about any glitz and glamour, they were about sharing with others,” said Kruskamp. “He thought that a good meal was nothing if you didn’t have good people.”
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