Marshall Hardware marks 70 years of keeping Lakeside in good repairAs a winter storm bore down on Duluth last week, business was hopping at Marshall Hardware, which is marking its 70th year in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
As a winter storm bore down on Duluth last week, business was hopping at Marshall Hardware, which is marking its 70th year in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood.
“Everybody’s getting their snowblowers ready, and they’re getting cold weather gear,” said Michael Marshall, a fourth-generation Marshall working at the family store.
Besides replacing broken snowmobile shear pins and getting shovels and heavy-duty winter gloves, customers stopped in to get needed items for their do-it-yourself home projects.
Most are regulars who are greeted by name. With the help of staff, customers soon have what they need and are on their way.
“They’re indispensible when you need something,” said regular Don Dass, who stopped in to get some paint thinner. “There’s nothing else close. I’m not going to run to the mall just to get a can of naphtha.”
Personal service and convenience and a good neighborhood location far enough from big store competition is how Marshall Hardware has survived for 70 years, say third-generation owners, brothers Scott and Steve Marshall.
“Products may change but personal service doesn’t,” said Steve, 47. “We know 90 percent of our customers by name.”
“It’s more than a business, it’s a community event,” said Scott Marshall, 50.
Not that big-box chain stores like Home Depot and Menards haven’t hurt neighborhood hardware stores. Where once there were many, now are just a few.
But Scott and Steve’s father, Lyman Marshall Jr., who ran the store from 1965 to 2000, insists there’s still a place for the neighborhood hardware store.
“If they have really good knowledgeable service, have the product that the people are looking for, I think they’ll always do very well,” he said.
A family business from the start
When Marshall Hardware store opened in 1939, there were numerous neighborhood hardware stores throughout Duluth. Lyman Marshall Sr., who had worked for a major hardware wholesaler in town, and his wife, Myrtle, started the store in rented space on Superior Street, a few blocks from the store’s current site.
Starting from scratch, their inventory was sparse in the beginning. Everything came in boxes in those days. So they would take out the item, put it on the shelf and stack the empty boxes to make it appear the store had more merchandise, recalled their son, Lyman Marshall Jr., now 74.
By 1949, the store was doing well enough for the Marshalls to build a new store at 4415 E. Superior St. Both their son Lyman and, later, his children grew up knowing the store as the family hub. Empty boxes became toys. And the children learned early how to assemble merchandise and make repairs.
They started working at the store while in junior high. Steve, Scott and their siblings earned 25 to 50 cents an hour working there after school in the 1970s. They’d stock shelves and price items. They’d unload delivery trucks. Many items arrived unassembled. So they’d put wheelbarrels, rakes and shovels together.
“Eventually you’d start waiting on people,” said Scott Marshall, 50.
After his father’s death, Lyman Jr. ran the business from 1965 to 2000, when sons Steve and Scott took over. Now a fourth generation is helping at the 5,000-square-foot store.
A Lakeside institution
Evidence of the store’s longevity can be found in the framed memorabilia displayed near the store counter. A newspaper ad announces sales for the 1939 grand opening: bamboo lawn rakes for 29 cents, roller skates for 89 cents, shovels for $1.19. A 1949 ad announces the grand opening of the “magnificent new store.” The old wooden store counter built by founder Lyman Marshall Sr. is still used. A drawer is still filled with hand-written house accounts that are still active.
“It’s been a steadfast good investment for us all along,” Scott Marshall said of the practice of allowing trusted customers to put purchases on tabs.
The store still cuts glass, repairs windows and screens, cuts keys and sharpens skates and lawnmower blades.
The memory of Myrtle Marshall, who was named to the Duluth Hall of Fame and was known for her community involvement, also lives on in the annual Lakeside kiddie parade held in her memory.
Recent influx of customers
Among Marshall Hardware’s regulars is Dave Fischer of Duluth. Although a customer from way back, he stops in more often since Daugherty’s Hardware & Appliances in Central Hillside closed last year.
“I’ve always liked to come to the small guy,” Fischer said. “They know the product. I like dealing with someone who knows the product. And you get someone to help you. You get convenience, knowledge and a quality product here. They have what I need. And as a contractor, they get me in and out quickly.”
With the closing of Daugherty’s, Marshall’s saw a dramatic 16 percent to 18 percent jump in business from former Daugherty customers willing to travel farther for that personal service, Scott Marshall said.
“We’ll never get rich but, knock on wood, we’ll always be here,” he said.