J. Marvin Leonard was born in 1895 near Linden, Texas. His parents operated a small general store there.
During World War I Marvin moved to Dallas, where he worked in a store that specialized in salvaged merchandise.
On December 14, 1918, Marvin Leonard opened a small store that sold groceries and salvaged merchandise. He was soon joined by his brother Obie and the store grew to occupy more than six blocks in downtown Fort Worth. Leonard Brothers became a store so large that even to this day it dwarfs anything that any single retail user has ever tried to accomplish.
The Leonard Brothers was a cross between a modern day super store and a shopping mall. It was a place to purchase merchandise and a place to meet up with friends.
Going to Leonard’s on a Saturday was an event the whole family looked forward to doing together whether they traveled to the store from across town or from across the state.
Leonard’s played an integral role in life throughout the 20th century. It boasted Fort Worth’s first escalator, provided coupons and cash vouchers for locals after World War II, hired African Americans during the very early days of integration, and offered a plethora of store-brand alternatives for shoppers. The Leonard brothers even constructed a subway in downtown Fort Worth (allegedly the world’s only privately owned subway) that escorted shoppers straight to the store.
Obie purchased his brother’s interest in the store in 1965 and sold Leonard Brothers to Charles David Tandy in 1967. On March 4, 1974, Tandy sold Leonard Brothers to Dillards, and the Leonards’ name came down from the stores.
These two little boys from tiny Linden, Texas, left quite a legacy. Visitors can learn more about it and see artifacts at the Leonard’s Museum in downtown Fort Worth, 200 Carroll Street. Call (817) 336-9111 or visit their Facebook page for more information.
Excerpts from Texas State Historical Association and Leonard’s Museum Facebook page.