50-year-old Henry Peech, the owner of Fred Peech Antiques, was found dead inside the burned-out building.
The fire was reported at 1:43 a.m. at 1008 South Shore Road in Palermo, Cape May County.
When firefighters arrived they found an inferno consuming the building.
The old, wooden 2-story house was built back in 1835. The antique shop was attached to the side of the house. Firefighters and witnesses say it all went up like a match.
"Being full of antiques like it was and being an old structure as it was it just went up like a tinderbox," neighbor Harry Lord said.
This was a difficult situation for people like the fire chief who knew Peech since they were children.
"We had so much fire going on at the beginning, there was no way we were going to be able to get in there and effect a rescue," Chief Jay Newman of the Marmora Fire Company said.
In fact, the second story of the wooden structure eventually collapsed onto the first, making it difficult to locate and retrieve Peech's body.
It was hours before firefighters were able to locate Peech's body. Tanker trucks had to be called in to help fight the fire, which collapsed the second story on top of the first. Peech's body was eventually discovered on the first floor near a fireplace.
Peech's cousin says the victim had difficulty dealing with several recent deaths in his family, including his father's, and an economy that kept the antique business slow. But he says Peech liked what he did.
"He would always find stuff through Ocean City and around, pick it up, and bring it back here, turn it into something that he liked and sell it," cousin Guy Streeter said.
As a huge claw knocked down what was left of the burned-out home and attached store, neighbors say they did not know Henry Peech well. He was a private man they say, something of a recluse.
"He stayed to himself and you would see him walking or riding his bike," neighbor Eileen Messer said.
The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time.