Why is the Ralph Pill Marketplace called the Ralph Pill Marketplace, anyway?

  • The Ralph Pill Marketplace building in Concord is seen on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Sunday, October 22, 2017

One of the mysteries of the Ralph Pill Marketplace is its very prominent name, since the Massachusetts-based suppliers of electrical components didn’t build the tower and hasn’t existed since it sold out to another firm a decade ago.

“When we converted the building to offices, the question was, what are we going to call the building? We had all sorts of ideas but everybody said, no, call it the Ralph Pill Marketplace, because that’s how everybody knows it,” said Alfred Pill, son of the Ralph Pill who founded the eponymous company in 1919.

As Alfred Pill tells it, the firm had two Massachusetts locations when he took over Ralph Pill Electric Supply Co. from his father in 1959. As part of an expansion that at one point led to 18 locations selling lighting and electrical equipment in three states, a Concord office was installed on Pleasant Street Extension.

“In 1965, plus or minus, we seemed to have run out of space at Pleasant Street Extension and started looking for another building,” he said. “Our manager called me and said there’s a big empty building, we should look at it.”

The Bridge Street building, originally created for a shoe manufacturer, was then owned by General Cable, and had been virtually empty for years. Aside from two small tenants – a sheet-metal company and the New Hampshire Toll Road Commission – it was abandoned, Pill said: “The windows were broken; it was a typical industrial building.”

Pill said he bought it sight unseen for the assessed tax value (“a very good price” is as specific as he would get) and moved in.

He found a couple of pleasant surprises. One was in the basement, which was full of copper wire that General Cable had forgotten about – Pill said he gave it back to them – and the other was in the tower.

“I climbed up into the tower and found a treasure trove of what appeared to be wooden machinery models, quarter-inch-scale models that they built years ago. They used to build models of machinery and then make machinery to that standard,” he said. “It was beautiful stuff, really lovely wooden models. I kept them!”

The company moved in and established a thriving business.

This went on even when a July 1999 microburst ripped off the roof and sent it crashing down onto the parking lot. Nobody was hurt, Pill said, although the sprinkler system was badly damaged. The company repaired the roof and moved on.

Jeff Woodward, who oversees maintenance for the building as did his father, Chuck, before him, says that the building is in quite good shape, considering its age. “He (Alfred Pill) has spent a lot of money over the years to take care of it,” he said.

Even though Ralph Pill Electric Supply sold out to Northeast Distributors, which still uses part of the building, and is now merely its landlord (as well as landlord for the adjacent brick building, once home to Concord Electric Co.), its years of success cemented the name in local parlance. Pill acknowledges that the tower’s prominence makes it memorable for people who drive past Concord.

“My friends who drive up to go skiing, they see the building and say, ‘Oh, I saw your building in Manchester,’ ” he said. “I tell them: It’s not Manchester – it’s Concord! ... But they mention it.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)