Ghosts of Main Street: The Richardson Building

January 24, 2019

Julie Traynor

This is not a ghost story. It is a biography of sorts; the childhood story if you will, of a well-known, busy building with an East Main Street address. In fact, the subject of this not-a-ghost story continues to be very much alive and well. This week we give you a look at the childhood and early days of the Richardson Building. If you don’t recognize it by that name, you surely will know it as the long-time home of Marion’s own Shanajac’s Pizza.

Still strong a decade after it began, Marion’s building and business boom continued on an upswing in both business and population growth as servicemen continued to return home. Michigan Gas Storage and Pure Oil were both established in the area, bringing employees and their families. Riverside Electric was soon on the way.

Paul Richardson checking the durability of a chrome dinette set about 1950.

Paul Richardson checking the durability of a chrome dinette set about 1950.

In 1947 Paul and Leona (Austin) Richardson built a two story red brick building next to the nine year old Sun Theater, on the northeast corner of East Main and Carland Street. The lot had long been vacant, the last building there having burned 40 years earlier. The double front building had a large business area at the street level and three apartments on the second floor. The Richardson family occupied the front apartment.

According to daughter Marilyn Richardson Russell, living above the store with an eye on Main Street was always interesting, but probably the best advantage was that the Sun Theater was just next door. Needless to say, she enjoyed a new movie every week and ate a lot of popcorn.

Paul Richardson opened the Marion Furniture Market on the business floor of the building. He offered a full line of home furnishings, from dinette sets and sofas to radios and Westinghouse appliances, as the round orange and blue neon sign with the large W proclaimed from the front façade for years, well beyond availability. It disappeared by 1970.

While Paul sold furniture from the front, Leona Richardson claimed a rear portion of the store for, as it was advertised, “Leona’s Dress Shop – located in the New Richardson Bldg. Phone 149”. Her conservatively sized weekly advertising in the Marion Press often took a cartoonish/rhyming kind of approach. New selections were listed each week and nylons were a constant at $1.39 a pair. Leona even offered a buy 12 pairs, get the 13th free deal. Ask “Leona for a club card”.

The same week Leona’s offered a stocking club card, the Marion Furniture Market ran a large ad featuring Bendix (yes, the commercial washer people) radios and phonographs, from table top models to combo pieces contained in fine mahogany cabinets.  In the still improving economy, the radios and soon televisions, would be hot commodities.

Kibby’s Furniture, September 1970.

Kibby’s Furniture, September 1970.

Apparently, from time to time, a woolens salesman who called on Leona at the dress shop would offer Mr. Richardson a few clothing items for men on his way out. Paul, in the spirit of friendly business competition with his wife, took him up on them from time to time and would advertise said items; right along with the weeks featured household items.

The week that Leona’s Dress Shop advertised wool scarves, sweaters and plaid dresses from $8.95 and up, the Marion Furniture Market ran an ad in the same issue, three times the size, featuring men’s wool plaid shirts and men’s and boy’s sweaters $1.39-4.75. Boys school pants ranged from $2.95 to $5.95. The same ad includes a sale on innerspring mattresses and box springs for $79 a set. Or, if your pocket was a bit less flush, something called a felt mattress, twin or double, could be had for $16.50. Phone 149. The Leona’s and Marion Furniture also shared a phone.

By the mid early 1950’s the large furniture floor had been divided in half; furniture on the left or west side; Dr. Youngman, MD, and Dr. Blossom, DDS, had a waiting room and offices on the east or right. Marionites of a certain age may recall the long wait which could be had in that waiting room. Often folks waiting for someone waiting, chose to peruse furniture, new or used, try a chair or two and talk with the genial Ed Hiller, first manager, then owner of both business and building.  Leona’s Dress Shop was a casualty of this expansion and disappears from public record by 1952.

Marion Press ad for Leona’s Dress Shop.

Marion Press ad for Leona’s Dress Shop.

When Hiller’s health failed in the 1960’s he sold to Bob DeVries, who after several years, sold to Revoe and Emily Ida Kibby. The Kibby’s sold furniture from the west side of the building for 12 years.

By 1990 pizza take out had come to Marion in a big way. What we know and appreciate as Shanajac’s Pizza, got its start, and still resides in the Richardson Building. Shannon’s pizza has proven to be the Richardson Building’s longest single business renter to date. As the advertising says Shanajac’s Pizza – Phone 743-6275.

Other changes happened to the east side of the building during the 1960’s and well into the 1980’s. By the mid 1970’s Dr. Youngman had built his own offices next door on the corner. The space he and Blossom had occupied opened up once again to a variety of businesses including several different dress shops and beauty salons. Currently Dr. Youngman’s waiting room is home to Teasers Salon – 743-2887.

When Greg and Sandy Russell Merrifield were seeking a new office for his law practice and Chris Jackson space for his fledgling electrical business, they partnered and bought the Richardson Building in 1987. Sandy Merrifield is the granddaughter of Paul and Leona Richardson.

The building was in need of updating after 40 years of steady use. Chris set up Jackson Electric at the rear entrance, Greg Merrifield, law offices on the former Youngman side. The upstairs apartments were improved and the two smaller ones combined to make one. The remaining business space was divided and a pizza business moved in.

As the Richardson Building approaches its 75th year of steady use some things remain constant. It is still owned by Greg and Sandy Russell Merrifield. Shanajac’s still serves up great pizza, and Gregory C. Merrifield, Attorney at Law may still be found in his office most weekday mornings – 743-6891. As we see it, the Richardson building has just hit a middle-aged stride.

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