Dispatch: Steve Carell on Aisle Five
And yet, the people of Marshfield can’t get enough of him. In 2005, the year The Office debuted on NBC, Carell and his wife, Nancy Walls, an actress raised in Cohasset, bought their first place in Marshfield as a getaway from the Los Angeles home they share with their two young children. The family was soon a local fixture over holidays and summer weekends. Instantly, Marshfield was transformed, transfixed; Carell’s every move chronicled via word of mouth as he made his way through the coastal town on foot (he jogs) or by car (a Volvo SUV). Internet chatter focused on banal reports of Carell shopping for luggage and shoes at the Pembroke Kohl’s, sitting down to lunch at the Green Harbor Lobster Pound, and playing in the yard with his son. If he so much as urinated in a stall at a Marshfield restaurant, it became a matter of public discourse. Everyone had a Steve Carell story, even those who’d never met him, which is most of the people in Marshfield. Yet rather than seek to avoid the attention, Carell seemed to embrace the town right back. He’s fully aware that he’s an object of fixation, but insists it’s not discomforting; in fact, quite the opposite. “I am obsessed with the people of Marshfield,” he says. “I hope they don’t feel weird about that.”
The boldest manifestation of the love affair came this past January, when news broke that the 46-year-old actor had bought the 156-year-old Marshfield Hills General Store, a faded yellow and white Colonial-style storefront attached to the post office on Prospect Street. Carell’s $575,000 purchase got him not just an 800-square-foot space ripe for selling homemade muffins and assorted knickknacks, but also the heightened affection of his already adoring local fan base. (As one online commenter swooned, “Anyone can buy stock…buying a ‘mom and pop’ store, and hiring relatives to run it, makes it so much more human.”) He put his sister-in-law, 13-year Marshfielder Tish Vivado, in charge of day-to-day operations and seven employees.
The Marshfield Hills General Store does what a general store should, providing everything you’d need for a picnic, power outage, or last-minute hostess gift. Neighbors who have chickens sell their eggs. There are things like wineglass charms and cute games for kids and pets, as well as prints by local artist David Brega. Vivado chooses what to stock, with input from her brother-in-law boss, whose directives have included making the store young, fun, and community-oriented. “Steve has a lot of opinions,” Vivado says. “He has many ideas for the direction the store could go in. He calls all the time. He didn’t just buy it to not be involved.” His first order of business was a full-on (though by all accounts tasteful) renovation, currently in progress, meant to help preserve the original structure.
Over the past few months, the store has seen traffic from shoppers seeking penny candy and a Steve Carell sighting. On the way in they may breeze right past Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, who frequently can be seen tapping out songs and humming to himself on the front porch. Sometimes visitors come in solely to ask if Carell is working. “People have traveled from all over the country,” not to mention from right across town, says Vivado.
Which, of course, is the irony. The general store, in historic terms, is itself a symbol of the unchanging New England small town. It’s meant to be practical, unflashy, and basic. It is, quite plainly, everything that celebrity is not. The very act of a megastar’s getting involved with a general store—even with the best intentions—changes its character in some inevitable ways. For one, the Marshfield Hills General Store is undoubtedly more of a focal point in town than it used to be. According to the Marshfield Building Department, its renovations will cost around $250,000; it has been name-checked in Us Weekly; it is gaining a national notoriety that, at least in the eyes of some residents, it neither needs nor wants.