GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — When times get tough, smart business owners get flexible.

That’s what Schairer Brothers, one of the few remaining sawmills in New Jersey, has done for the last several years. As demand for lumber for new construction and home renovations declined during the recession, the company branched out into removing dead and damaged trees from area homeowners’ properties, said co-owner Paul Schairer.

“A lot of insects are killing all the trees,” said Schairer, 48. “Now there’s a lot of demand for hazard tree removal.”

Hurricane Irene blew even more customers Schairer’s way, as the storm knocked down trees and branches when it roared through South Jersey on Aug. 27, he said. It took him several weeks to catch up with the workload created by the hurricane.

His father and two uncles founded the sawmill about 75 years ago, Schairer said. The facility suffered a fire in the early 1950s, and the structures now on the Bremen Avenue site were constructed to replace those that were lost. Another uncle, Anthony Schairer of Galloway Township, has part ownership of the business but is semi-retired.

Schairer said he started working summers at the sawmill when he was still in grade school.

The family owns about 400 acres of woodland in South Jersey, and harvests trees for their lumber, Schairer said. Most customers order Atlantic white cedar, but the company can provide just about any type of locally grown wood.

Builders purchase the lumber for construction, and homeowners buy it for do-it-yourself projects such as paneling a recreation room, Schairer said. Decoy carvers are also among his regular customers.

Some customers want a piece of wood with the bark still attached, for projects such as a rustic mantel over the fireplace or a tiki bar for the backyard, he said.

“You can’t go to a lumber yard and buy that,” he said.

Schairer said he warns customers that there could be bugs lurking in the bark. While cedar is naturally resistant to the pests, stains and varnishes will usually kill insects nesting in other types of wood.

Very little goes to waste at the sawmill or from the tree-removal service, Schairer said. Almost everything is used or recycled.

When possible, downed trees taken from area properties are cut into logs and sold as firewood, Schairer said. What can’t go into the fireplace is chopped up for bedding for horses at area farms. Dead branches are placed over mud holes in the woods to make it easier to remove harvested trees.

With the slowdown in building construction, Schairer estimated that tree removal makes up about half of his business, if not more.

“There’s been good years and some not-so-good years, but we’ve muddled through,” Schairer said. “Until construction rebounds and people start spending again, the sawmill will be struggling.”

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