In what he says is a very bittersweet decision, Randy Marvel explained that, after 75 years, it was time to close one of the oldest businesses in Milford, Marvel Agency. Marvel plans to spend more time with his grandchildren and travel now that the business is closed. Over the past year, he has been slowly cleaning out files in the office in preparation for selling the building.
“My father worked up until he passed away in 1999, but he turned the business over to us,” Marvel said. “After that he was kind of our Rainmaker. He liked to talk to people and sit in the lobby and greet everybody that came in, he took all our pictures and socialized and he certainly advised us what to do.”
Marvel explained that his father started the business selling insurance door-to-door. His grandfather lived in Houston and was a food broker. After Marvel’s father met his mother at a USO during World War II and the couple married, he entered the insurance business, eventually adding real estate as well.
“I think he probably enjoyed the reals estate side more than the insurance, but he had to do both to make a living,” Marvel said. “When you start a business, you have to do what the people need every day. At one time, we probably had close to 30 people working in the building.”
Marvel never regretted joining his father’s business, stating that he is proud of the way his family helped others in the community. The Marvel family introduced people to the town, helped them find a home, whether to buy or rent, developing land, managing apartments, all things that he found rewarding. The Marvel family also donated the Marvel Salt Marsh in Slaughter Beach to the Delaware Nature Society, another project Marvel said he was proud of.
“The most challenging thing in running a small business has to be aware every week, you have enough money to pay your salaries. So that’s always there,” Marvel said. “Interest rates over the years have been up and down, up as high as 18% as low as almost zero. That’s always a challenge handling that. Dealing with government regulation, certainly in 50 years, they’ve gotten a lot more restrictive. Some of the changes are good, some are not so good.”
As for the staff at the agency, Marvel stated that some moved on to other agencies while others who had been there many years, including Harvey Kenton, Connie Fox and Delbert Mills, also decided to retire. Marvel explained that they all turned in their licenses and made them inactive together. He got into the business because he always wanted to work with his brother.
“I got into the business because I wanted to work with my father. Growing up, everywhere we went, whether it was out to eat, when we visited relatives or what have you, we had to ride by something real estate. So, I grew up with it. And always enjoyed that. The generation I was from in the 60s, there was a lot of us that ended up working for our fathers. It was kind of a thing. But most of those people came back from World War II and had grown up in the depression and started businesses. Not that they encouraged us, but they certainly liked that we followed in their footsteps,” Marvel said. “I can probably tell you 20 people in Milford from my generation that went to work for their parents in a family business. Most of them I knew and had grown up with, they were close to my age or older where I admired them and had seen him play sports through school.”
Not only did the family businesses in Milford help each business grow, Marvel explained that they also helped the community. Marvel’s father served as president of the Chamber of Commerce twice and the families were all involved in community groups, like the Rotary Club, People’s Place, the library, the senior center, the Boys and Girls Club and the Food Bank.
“We have decided to sell the building,” Marvel said. “We own both sections of the main building as well as the parking lot behind us. We also own the building where Tax Chicks is located, what used to be Saunders Jewelry store. That will also be sold. This building was the original city hall and housed the first jail in Milford. We are hoping that it will be bought by someone with a vision of what it could be to benefit the downtown area.”
Marvel explained that his three children nor his brother’s four children had any desire to take over the family business. One of them is in insurance but none of the children live in Delaware. Marvel stated that he decided it was time to retire as he will be 71 this year and has had a license since he was 20. Many projects started by his father and other prominent Milfordians are completed, including Saw Mill Village, Woods Haven, Walnut Village and Shawnee Acres. They decided not to sell the business outright, choosing instead to end it after 75 years.
“It is a little unfortunate, because a lot of those businesses, a lot of the ones that the businesses I grew up with, the names that I knew, they are all gone, like Fisher Appliances. When thinking about downtown, I was trying to think who has been here longer, and who would be next. I think the only one still in downtown that was here before us is the Milford Café,” Marvel said. “It’s been here since the end of prohibition. Other than that, I don’t think there’s anybody here longer than that. I’m not sure who’s next.”
Marvel mentioned Walls Service Station which is third generation and is still operational. However, others, such as Warren Furniture which were third generation and Fisher Appliances which was owned for two generations, are now gone.
“It’s a different dynamic. It’s a different downtown. It is as strong as ever, but it is different. Going through my files, I found an editorial somebody wrote complaining about how bad downtown was,” Marvel said. “Well, it goes through cycles. Certainly, there’s been improvements over the years the park, the parking lots. People invest in downtown.”
Although the agency officially closed a year ago, the buildings were just listed for sale this month.
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