Dispatch: Steve Carell on Aisle Five

THERE ARE NINE VILLAGES WITHIN Marshfield, and several have their own general store—the Brant Rock Market, the Green Harbor General Store, and so on. Marshfield Hills, whose self-declared nicknames include both “The Hills” and “02051″ (not making this up), is known for being the most steeped in history. The main road of the village, Prospect Street, was once the thoroughfare used by Pilgrims traveling from Plymouth to Boston, and equestrian types can still be spotted clip-clopping their horses up and down the street. Many houses here are more than 200 years old.

According to Brad White, there are over 4,000 dogs in Marshfield, and he owns three of them. White also loves his celebrity neighbors. “Every year, Steven Tyler is one of my first trick-or-treaters,” he says. “One year he dressed like Elvis. Another year he was just Steven. He likes candy, too.” White describes the general store as a place where people help each other, like when someone needs a baby-sitter. “I always say, ‘If you know one person, you know 3,000 at the general,’” he says.

As a kid growing up in Concord and Acton, Carell would often go with his parents to a general store in Sudbury called Boker’s. Mr. Boker stocked bins of penny candy, household staples, and simple toys, and poured a good cup of coffee—or so Carell’s parents said. There was a single gas pump out front. “I have always had such fond memories of that store,” says Carell. “Sadly, while I was still a boy, Mr. Boker passed away, and the store closed. The town lost something, and so did our family.” And so when he learned through Vivado that the Marshfield Hills General Store was for sale, he “jumped at the chance” to buy it. “The place is a Marshfield landmark,” he says. “A needed gathering spot. A real sense of community lives here. My wife and I thought that preserving such a place was important.” Indeed, Carell is far more earnest and sober-sounding than one might expect of a comedian who once declared that the key to great acting is performing in underpants full of warm oatmeal. He might be the most famous person in town, but he’s quite possibly the most normal, too.

Incidentally, the store didn’t entirely need all the preserving Carell had in mind. Previous owners Sherry and Bob Bechtold had operated it for seven years, and during that time renovated the property in the classic, old-fashioned general store model. When the Bechtolds put the building on the market last fall, they hadn’t actually intended to sell the business—just the building, and Sherry planned to continue managing the store—but the offer that Carell made was contingent on the owners’ releasing the entire property. When the Bechtolds found out who it was (and how much he was offering), they vetted his intentions, and Sherry says the decision was obvious. It didn’t make selling any less difficult, though. “It was what I did 24/7, and being in the center of the world there, you know everybody and everybody knows you,” she says, more than once adding, “I’m still not really over it.” She wistfully recounts hearing a voice yelling up to her from her front porch not long after the sale. It was Steven Tyler, who’d been away. “He wanted to see how I was doing,” she remembers.

On a rainy Friday at the start of summer, a trio of old men is perched outside the entrance to the store. They’ll be there again tomorrow, and Sunday. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and already the place is jam-packed with tourists and their broods, busy pawing the candy jars. Near the $5 greeting cards and cat collars and lip gloss is a small display of Office merchandise, including autographed Dunder Mifflin hats and T-shirts. “You can tell a real Office fan because they know what this means,” says Vivado, holding up an XXL tee that reads “Shrute Farms Beets.” (At Carell’s insistence, Vivado does not charge extra for any items that he autographs.)

Like most people, Vivado describes her brother-in-law—her sister Nancy’s husband—as a Mr. Everyman sort of guy. “He’s just a down-to-earth, nice, nice person,” she says, adding that many folks come into the store expecting to run into Michael Scott, Carell’s onscreen alter ego. Though Carell is a famously adept ad-libber (it’s a skill he picked up during his stint on The Daily Show), there will be no impromptu standup at his general store. The burden placed on comedians—more than with any other kind of performer—is that we expect them to be funny, and on, all the time. No one’s waiting for Steven Tyler to break into song in the middle of a plateful of pancakes at Arthur & Pat’s. With Carell, however, there is the anticipation of being entertained by a guy who’s seemingly too “nice” to say no, too “normal” to mind, a circus animal on a country stage. Maybe that’s why the people of Marshfield seem so interested in getting close. Carell is so thoroughly approachable that it’s easy to imagine having him over for burgers. Our very own celebrity BFF. How great would that be?

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  • Greg

    Please…

  • Jay

    while quaint, I can see why it went under — its an under-sized convenience store/gift shop and its fairly quiet. We're talking 'big density' and high foot traffic.

  • bob

    Who knew? Very cool.

  • Olivia

    It's nice that Carell is being heralded in this story. But the other Steve, Steve Tyler, will always be the "real" Marshfield superstar

  • Crulp

    Alright guy, "Prospect St", yeah right guy, the general store/post office is on Old Main St, guy. I live like 100 yards away, bro, on Pleasant Street, kid. Don't worry about it.

  • Eileen

    YOu may live down the street but the store is on Prospect.

  • Joe

    my wife and I just went to the Marshfield general Store. Great! It has a great aura. bought some cool “Office” stuff. Hope I see steve there sometime when i go againg this summer (2010). you al

  • Joe

    me again. some dwight shrute bobbles (and others) would be great. i may hve missed them.