When Jim Marsh arrived in Las Vegas in 1971 from Longview, Wash., he was in search of a new life. After selling his Pontiac International Harvester Fiat dealership in Longview and headed straight for the desert about 1,200 miles from the rainy northwest.
Marsh’s old home was in the middle of a massive depression, Boeing was literally on its backside and like so many others, Marsh was tired of the many months of rain and besides, Seattle had an unemployment rate of 18 percent.
In fact, things were so bad in Seattle that Marsh recalls a billboard which actually said “Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?”
While Marsh was eager to find a new and drier environment, he also heard that an AMC dealership was for sale at Fremont and 17th streets. The dealership had been run into the ground and Marsh – ever the entrepreneur – had never shied from a challenge.
A native of Grand Island, Neb., Marsh landed in the desert and brought with him a deadpanned outlook on life that mixed with the history of Nevada like a ball in a glove.
At the time, Elvis Presley was the talk of the town at the old International Hotel, the Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr., made up the Rat Pack.
With all of the top-notch entertainment, Marsh was about to find a home he had never dreamed about before. He brought with him his own brand of a dynamic and downhome personality that made him a sure bet in a city where many other dreamers were known to lose their shirts.
Wherever Marsh had gained his business sense, he was street-smart in Vegas, where the population was about 239,000 the year he arrived. Hunter Thompson had come to Las Vegas to cover the legendary Mint 400 off road race and wrote the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for Rolling Stone Magazine.
The city seemed to be spreading its wings; and so was Marsh. It was time to start taking even bigger chances. Howard Hughes had arrived five years prior seeing profit in land many thought was worthless, so there had to be gold in them thar hills.
Marsh saw promise, too. He was ready for Las Vegas and the city seemed ready for him, too. He would fall in love with the desert and especially the tiny towns that were a few hundred miles away.
Now more than 44 years since his arrival, Marsh has become a fixture in Southern Nevada. His television commercials pitching cars have featured everything from animals to his wing tipped shoes and his daughter and grandson.
In a city renowned for its share of creative minds, Marsh has methodically played the part on television while continuing to operate on the belief that personality mixed with a little good-natured fun can actually result in a car sale.
Truth be known, Marsh is one of the most recognized businessmen/personalities in Nevada. While many others from various trades have come and gone in the past four decades, Marsh has stayed consistent through thick and thin hanging on though each of the economic downfalls that have seen thousands of others pack up and leave.
In fact, while name entertainers for the most part seem to have left Las Vegas as the city has switched to more musicals and floor shows, Marsh has been on-stage since the day he arrived. Only in this case, his marquee has been adjacent to a local car dealership and not in front of a gazillion dollar hotel casino.
Not one to beat his chest, Marsh is proud of his accomplishments in Southern Nevada ranging from his continued profitable years in what can be a brutal car business to his accomplishments in the outlying areas.
His dry sense of humor is evident in his television commercials although he seems to take his personality for granted.
“I’m not sure where I got my sense of humor,” Marsh said recently. “I think my mother got the wrong baby when she left the hospital after I was born.”
While Marsh’s investments in the car business have been very successful, they have been only part of his portfolio.
In Belmont about 250 miles northeast of Las Vegas, he had a tiny 48-seat non-denominational church built on a hill for the community. Then, too, he built the Long Street Inn & Casino in Amargosa Valley and he has numerous tiny motels throughout various areas of the state.
Other members of his real estate portfolio includes several casinos including The Skyline on Boulder Highway; Tonopah Station/Ramada, Hum Bug Flats bar; and the Banc Club in Tonopah; the Bank/Alamo Club in Pioche; the Sante Fe Saloon in Goldfield; and the Manhattan Bar and motel in Manhattan.
And for the past 17 years, Marsh has sponsored annual bus rides that take history enthusiasts to areas that has included various mines; Colorado; the Grand Canyon; the Eureka Opera House; charcoal kilns; and Virginia City, to name a few.
The 18th trip next year will likely be the last bus trip and you can bet the buses will be filled to capacity for the finale.
Simply put, Marsh loves the history of Nevada so much that he has invested in it countless times and gets a kick out of visiting with people in the towns. In fact, he’s the hit of every July 4th parade in Belmont where he’s in the parade each year.
Meanwhile, Marsh is about to celebrate what may be his greatest victory. He and 788 other Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealers lost their dealerships during the economic downturn in 2009; but Marsh is among only four of the dealers who are getting their stores back following a recent announcement.
Marsh intends to build a new Chrysler Jeep dealership to the west of his current Kia Mitsubishi dealership and body shop on West Centennial Center Boulevard in the northwest Las Vegas Valley.
While Marsh might be seen smiling from ear to ear over his latest victory, his competitors in the car business are just as happy that he was victorious. In fact, it’s not hard finding fellow car dealers who respect Marsh.
“Jim is unique, successful and beholding to no one,” praised Chapman Dodge General Manager Don Hamrick. “He’s one of my favorite guys.”
Fairway Chevrolet President Greg Heinrich concurs with Hamrick while also lauding Marsh for getting his Chrysler Jeep dealership back.
“I commend him for the fight,” said Heinrich adding that Marsh and Heinrich’s late father, Bill, were great friends more than 40 years ago. “It’s a huge deal.”
To Heinrich, Marsh has been a wonderful addition to Southern Nevada.
“Whatever he does, Jim is an amazing man,’ Heinrich said. “He has been an absolute role model for the car dealers of Nevada. He’s a true Nevadan who has business holdings all over the state. He is more than a car dealer and most people don’t realize that he’s a great human being and a great citizen of our state.
“He’s one of the finest car guys that I have ever known in the state of Nevada.”
Added Gary Ackerman of Gaudin Motor Company, “I have known Jim for over 30 years and he is a local icon in our industry. There are very few who work as hard as Jim. He works hard in the car business, he works hard in the gaming business, he works hard in politics; he just plain works hard.
“He has always been forthright, which is rare in our industry and tells it like he sees it every time. The other thing I would note is that you rarely hear someone speak ill of Jim, and that is also rare in our industry.
“And those shoes!!” +