WILLIAMSBURG — James Eugene Maloney, who built a multimillion-dollar family dynasty from a roadside pottery stand outside Williamsburg, died Monday. He was 93.
The success of the Williamsburg Pottery Factory predicted the modern “outlet mall.”
The factory was founded in 1938 and attracts hundreds of visitors daily — a monument to Mr. Maloney’s forward thinking, said Gil Granger, former Williamsburg mayor and a longtime accountant and friend of Mr. Maloney’s.
“They called it the ‘Bizarre Bazaar.’ People come here from all over America,” Mr. Granger said.
Mr. Maloney’s success came partly from his hardscrabble roots, Mr. Granger said. Mr. Maloney was born in Newport News in 1912, the son of a shipyard worker and grandson of an Irish immigrant, and came of age during the Depression.
“He’d try to make a couple pennies on everything,” Mr. Granger said. “He wasn’t after the highest price he could get. He was after the lowest price he could get and still make a profit.”
Mr. Maloney learned the pottery trade in Jamestown and bought a half-acre of land off Route 60 for $150 in 1938. With his wife, Gloria, he began selling pottery on the side of the road.
Instead of discarding flawed pottery, he sold it more cheaply. When a truck driver wanted to get rid of a load of flawed Ohio pottery, Mr. Maloney realized he could sell other people’s discards as well.
Selling cheaply attracted customers — and more discount merchandise.
He created a company that now sits on more than 200 acres and has invested millions in overseas buying. The company says it has 32 buildings and sells 120,000 items.
“He is the epitome of the American dream,” said Mike Maddocks, a senior vice president at SunTrust Bank who became friends with Mr. Maloney eight years ago. “He was a completely self-made man. He would never tire out. Everything he did, he did it until he was successful.”
Mr. Maloney’s four children — Fred, Joan, Alice and Rebecca — all have worked at the company, and some of Mr. Maloney’s grandchildren have as well.
Family relations sometimes have been strained.
In 1995, Joan Maloney was arrested on suspicion of trying to blackmail her father for $6 million, police said. She pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
In 1997, the company sued Fred Maloney, a former company president, for $500,000 in dividend payments. A judge dismissed the suit.
“Every family always has a tiff now and then,” Mr. Granger said. “When you have four children and they all have spouses, there’s always bound to grow up little differences of opinion.”
Mr. Maloney could see opportunity, said David Burris, a friend of Mr. Maloney’s and another senior vice president at SunTrust Bank.
“When the horse racetrack was first getting approved in New Kent County, Jimmy was at the table and he said, ‘David, you know what we’re gonna do? I’m gonna grow mushrooms. You grow them in horse manure. We’ll grow the mushrooms, sell the mushrooms and charge the stables in New Kent to bring us the manure.’
“He would come up with one or two of those every hour. He was just phenomenal.”
Mr. Burris’ favorite story is this: “One morning out of the blue, he pounded the table and said, ‘David, you know how they’re gonna transport stuff in the future? Straight up. We’re just gonna lift it straight up and let the Earth rotate underneath it. Everything can get where it needs to go in 24 hours.’
“I thought, well, the Earth does rotate. He thought like that routinely,” Mr. Burris said.
Mr. Maddocks calls Mr. Maloney a “slight, unassuming man” who never kept a desk — he told Mr. Maddocks, “Desks collect paper” — and who held basketball games for company employees every day.
“He wanted to keep moving and thinking.”
Later in life, Mr. Maloney donated money and land to charities, the Sentara Williamsburg Community Hospital and the College of William & Mary. He often donated anonymously, James City County administrator Sandy Wanner said.
Kim, Mr. Maloney’s second wife, will remain chief executive officer of the company.
The company will continue running as it does now, said grandson George Wright, a general manager there. Except for tomorrow, when the company will be closed in memory of Mr. Maloney.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Bede’s Catholic Church. Interment will be at Williamsburg Memorial Park. A reception will be held from 2 to 9 p.m. today at Nelson Funeral Home.