Alfred Marshall, 94; built store chain that carries his name
Alfred Marshall opened his first department store in Beverly in 1956, luring customers with discount merchandise from boutiques and with coupons for 5-cent ice cream sandwiches made by his children.
Mr. Marshall’s “brand names for less” strategy mushroomed, and his business grew into one of the leading discount chains in the country. He and his partners sold the stores in 1976, but his name remains synonymous with bargains at 904 Marshalls stores now owned by TJX Cos.
“He was a very dynamic person,” said his friend Sidney Katz, who worked with him for 51 years. “He had a lot of ideas and dreams and he made those ideas and dreams come true.”
Mr. Marshall, a former resident of Beverly and the island of Saint Maarten in the Caribbean, died of pneumonia Dec. 28 at a rehabilitation facility in Boca Raton, Fla., several weeks after being hospitalized for a heart ailment, his family said. He was 94 and had lived in Boca Raton, Fla.
“He had a concept: give people the brand names they want at a price they can afford,” Katz said. “He was discounting brand names, which was unheard of at the time. A lot of people got very wealthy because of his ideas.”
Born into a prosperous Lawrence family in 1919, Mr. Marshall lived in Beverly as a boy after his father lost his fortune during the Great Depression and abandoned his family, said Mr. Marshall’s daughter, Deborah Miller, who lives in Ipswich and Naples, Fla.
Mr. Marshall grew up living with an aunt who ran a variety store, where he began a lifelong love of buying and selling.
“He was just a man in love with business,” his daughter said. “It didn’t matter what the business was, he was sure he could do it and do it better.”
Mr. Marshall graduated from Beverly High School in 1937 and was a welder in the US Navy during World War II. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor after the 1941 attack and did underwater welding on sunken ships, his family said.
Mr. Marshall launched several business ventures after the war. He operated a fruit stand, built houses, and once had an ice cream stand where he sold banana splits for 29 cents on Sunday to use up his ripe bananas, his family said.
His aunt loaned him thousands of dollars to buy the land for his first store, his daughter said.
Mr. Marshall ran the store with his first wife, the former Marirose Pelletier. They were introduced by Mr. Marshall’s sister Buddy Kalpan, who worked in a Salem dress shop with Marirose.
“She knew it would be a perfect match and it was,” Mr. Marshall’s daughter said.
The Marshalls lived near their store, where his children worked after school, and from which he would walk home for a supper break.
“He’d have us do everything from sweeping the floors to stocking shelves,” said his oldest son, Ronald of Hampton, N.H.
“He’d buy these bricks of ice cream and we’d have to cut them up for the sandwiches,” he added. “We didn’t get paid for it, but we were allowed to eat as much ice cream as we wanted. We didn’t eat ice cream again for a month.”
During the holiday season, Mr. Marshall had his children cut sheets of wrapping paper from bulk rolls to create packages of mixed assortments. On Christmas Day, he let his children pick out three or four toys on the shelves of the store.
When his children discovered the best toys had already been sold, they devised a plan for the following year. Weeks before the holiday, they hid their favorites in the stockroom or placed them high on a shelf.
“I think he knew what we were doing, but we never got scolded for it,” Ronald said.
Mr. Marshall and Marirose had been married 45 years when she died in 2001.
He later married Estelle Newburg, whom he met at a relative’s wedding, his family said.
In addition to his wife, son, and daughter, Mr. Marshall leaves another son, Jan of St. Maarten; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Services were held at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly. Burial was in the Sons of Abraham Cemetery in Beverly.
In 1960, Mr. Marshall and other business partners launched a second store in Bedford. The chain grew to 36 stores before they sold to the Melville Corp. TJX bought the chain in 1995.
Mr. Marshall’s former colleague Katz recalled accompanying him on buying trips to Asia, Italy, and the Caribbean and marveling at his ability to do business.
“Here’s a guy who couldn’t speak the languages but he could go and make a deal with a person in China without an interpreter,” said Katz. “He was a workaholic. His mind never stopped.”
In an interview with the Globe in 2009, Mr. Marshall praised one of his partners, Frank Estey, for their success. Estey died that year at age 78.
“We were partners, but Frank was in charge,” Marshall said. “I started it; he built it up. I give all the credit to Frank. He was a great guy.”
After selling the chain, Mr. Marshall relocated to the Caribbean, where he had launched stores in St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. Maarten.
His family said he loved the islands because the lifestyle was akin to his days in Hawaii.
He had a series of other businesses over the years, including Marshall Air, with a fleet of five airplanes, and Marshall Motors in St. Maarten, which is operated by his grandson Aaron, his family said.
Mr. Marshall lived modestly and quietly. “He was never one to brag,” his son Ronald said. “He could afford any car he wanted, but he’d drive around in Chevys and Hyundais. He didn’t have Jaguars or Mercedes. He was down to earth.”
Mr. Marshall also never lost his love of buying and selling. He once bought three 40-foot containers of canned creamed corn with the idea of finding markets in the Caribbean.
“He bought it all, shipped it down there, and ended up selling all of it,” Ronald said.
While staying at a rehabilitation facility during the last weeks of his life, Mr. Marshall was still thinking about the art of the deal. “He said he had a dream he bought the place,” his daughter said.