Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Marsh’s Office Supply: a lot of memories in store

Marsh’s Office Supply
A lot of memories in store
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea

Bob Marsh decides to move his long-time family business from downtown Ypsilanti to his home.
Bob Marsh remembers back in the 1950s and 60s when Marsh’s Office Supply was open until 9 p.m. on Friday nights and people lined up to buy everything from typewrite ribbons to pens to office furniture.

Ypsilanti’s downtown was a different place then. The booming downtown district boasted three hardware stores, three men’s clothing stores, two women’s clothing stores, three shoe stores, two househould-furniture stores, three jewelry stores and McClellan’s, a five-and-dime across the stress from the office supply store, Marsh recalled.

Old friends and new friends walked in to talk and to buy products from the family business, Marsh said.

A lot has changed in the office-supply business since Thorvald F. Marsh, Bob Marsh’s father, opened shop in 1946. For one, Bob Marsh doesn’t sell typewriter ribbons or calculators, and not too many paper supplies, anymore. Not as many people, particularly new customers, come by either, Marsh said. Still, he said, the store has done reasonably well in recent years.

But because of health reasons, Marsh, 65, decided to sell the retail space at 22 N. Washington St. last year, and the store will close July 1.

Marsh doesn’t allow himself to get too caught up in nostalgia. The office-supply business--like other businesses--has become more specialized, he said.

“You have to reinvent yourself to survive,” Marsh said. “To make any money you have to have a specialty, because competition is fierce,” Marsh said.

For the past 10 years Marsh has specialized in ergonomic or comfortable high-tech office furniture.

The rise of voice mail, fax, computers and other modern convenience will allow Marsh to continue his business, Marsh’s Inc., on a smaller scale from his home, he said.

Marsh doesn’t deny that superstores such as Office Max have affected businesses. Ann Arbor used to have another Marsh office-supply store for a number of years, Marsh said. Both stores featured different products, from greeting cards to computers, back when computers were bulky and expensive. Marsh said he now gets his edge on superstores by specializing in ergonomic office-work stations and “quality” office furniture.

Photo Caption: The expanded use of computers and other technology will allow Bob Marsh to continue his business, now called Marsh’s Inc. from his home. Marsh has sold the retail space at 22 N. North Washington St. in Ypsilanti last year, and the store will close July 1.
Marsh doesn’t allow himself to get too caught up in memories.

Marsh earned a marketing degree from Michigan State University. Then Marsh returned to work for the family business full-time.

Marsh married Rose Marie Marsh in 1959, the same year he started to work full-time at the office supply store. He credits Rose for putting in countless hours in the store, particularly in the past few years.

On a recent day Marsh looked around the store’s walls, which are rapidly becoming bare. It’s starting to feel empty,” he said quietly.

Everything’s on sale. The white-out, the yellow chalk, the mail labels, even the fixtures left on the walls. The sign on the front window says, “50-75% off. All Reasonable Offers considered. Everything Must go.”

The hours he puts into work now are limited, Marsh said. In the next few weeks, Marsh said he has a lot of cleaning and organizing to do. In his office, papers are everywhere but stacked in an organized way.

“I’ve been shredding and ripping and tearing papers,” Marsh aid. “You don’t realize how much you can accumulate in 50 years.”

Photo Credit: Kirk Speer
Originally published May 24, 2000