, Salem, MA

January 4, 2014

Beverly's Alfred Marshall built his own brand


---- — Everyone’s life has a story. In “Lives,” we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently.

BEVERLY — It started with a fruit stand.

Alfred Marshall would drive in to the North End in Boston to buy fresh fruit, then bring it back and sell it at his stand on Enon Street (Route 1A) in North Beverly.

That was followed by the ice cream stand, which he set up next door to make 29-cent banana-split royal sundaes with the bananas left over from his fruit stand.

One day, Marshall saw two men walking through the open field across the street and asked them who owned the land. He bought the land and built a grocery store.

But that was just the beginning for the enterprising Marshall. His next venture would be the one that made him a household name in the world of discount retailing.

Marshall, who died Dec. 28 at the age of 94 in Boca Raton, Fla., built the original Marshalls department store in 1956 on his newly acquired land (on the site of the current Stop & Shop). The self-service clothing and home furnishings store went on to become a nationally known chain that now includes more than 800 stores in 42 states and Puerto Rico.

“He always had something going,” said his son Ronald Marshall. “He never stopped.”

Marshall stocked his stores with leftover or irregular brand-name merchandise that he purchased from auctions, manufacturers or upscale stores on Newbury Street and Brookline Avenue in Boston. He sold the merchandise at a discount, using slogans like “Brand names for less” and “Why pay more?”

Ronald Marshall remembers seeing a picture of his father in his store in front of a sign that read, “Women’s housecoats — 97 cents.”

“Some of the clothes weren’t perfect; some were,” Ronald Marshall said. “He priced them according to quality.”

The formula worked. Marshall opened a second store in Tewksbury, then a third store in Bedford. After living in a trailer behind the fruit stand, Marshall and his first wife, Marirose, and their three children moved into a new house near the Beverly store.

“He would walk home for dinner, then go back to the store,” his son said.

Two decades after the first store opened, when Marshalls had grown to a chain of 32 stores, including three in California, Marshall and his three partners decided it was time to sell. In 1976, Melville Shoe Corp., which owned Thom McAn shoe stores, bought Marshalls for $40 million.

Marshall, who loved sailing and warm weather, moved to the Caribbean. As part of the deal with Melville Shoe, he retained the right to use the Marshalls name in the Caribbean. Eventually, he opened a total of five stores on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. Maarten.

“He saw so much business opportunity down there,” Ronald Marshall said. “In the Caribbean, everybody gouged everybody. Al was always a discounter. He had the first discount store in the Caribbean. Tourists would get off ships on the islands, and when they saw the name ‘Marshalls,’ they couldn’t believe it was the same name.”

He also started a car dealership on St. Maarten, Marshall Motors, where his grandson, Aaron, works.

Ronald Marshall said his father was modest about his achievements, always declining to be interviewed about his story.

“He was never a man to boast about what he did,” his son said. “He thought it was self-indulgent. He was a very simple man.”

Marshall hadn’t lived in Beverly for years, but his services were held Thursday at Temple B’nai Abraham on East Lothrop Street, which he attended for years. He was buried in the family plot at the Sons of Abraham cemetery on Cole Street.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or