Chuck Gerry was still buzzing about the sushi-grade tuna and freshly caught Maine halibut he had bought a few days earlier as he opened up his fish market, Harrigan’s Seafood, one sunny day in late April in downtown Belfast.
“Oh, man, it was so good,” said Gerry, a Waldo County native. “It flew out of here. You can’t get that anywhere.”
Gerry and his wife, Rachelle Cummings-Gerry, opened Harrigan’s, named after Gerry’s grandfather, in the summer of 2009. Both were longtime employees of prominent area businesses, but after the recession hit, they realized that no job anywhere is secure.
“It was as good a time as any to try this out,” said Cummings-Gerry, who still works for Northport-based tent manufacturer Moss Inc. “You have to do what feels right, and this was the right time. We both have full-time jobs, but we make it work.”
“There was a need that wasn’t being filled,” said Gerry, still director of technology for Unitel, a communications company, in Unity. “You can’t get fresh fish year-round in Belfast. We wanted to fill that.”
At first, the couple sold lobsters and clams out of a refrigerated truck purchased from Young’s Shellfish. They parked it on the waterfront and at the Belfast Farmers Market, and sold to restaurants and the public, developing a word-of-mouth following among locals. A Facebook page and a website, www.harrigansseafood.com, also helped boost business.
In January, they moved their operations into the same space as Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., the craft brewery operated by David and Sarah Carlson, who also own Three Tides, a bar and restaurant on the Belfast waterfront. The new space, located at 42 Marshall Wharf, offers the Gerrys more room to display and sell seafood, with the bonus of having a selection of fine craft beers on tap for customers to taste and buy.
Before Harrigan’s even opened, Gerry knew he wanted to keep it as local as possible, as an alternative to the less-than-fresh seafood available at large, chain supermarkets. The majority of the seafood purchased at supermarkets is at least two days old, if not older, and much of it has been shipped in from Thailand, Chile or other far-flung climes, according to Gerry.
At Harrigan’s, the fish is no more than 24 hours old. Gerry buys it in the morning and sells it in the afternoon, some from Portland fish markets and from Port Clyde Fresh Catch in Rockport, and some directly from fishermen in Belfast, Jonesport and Stonington. The tuna and a handful of the other offerings aren’t from Maine, but are trucked up overnight from auctions in Boston and the Carolinas.
“We’ve had a lot of luck sharing with some area businesses, in terms of getting stuff shipped up here,” said Gerry. “But if we can get it local, we get it local. The lobsters, clams, mussels, oysters, halibut — all local.”
Gerry also forged good connections with local fishermen, who have helped him to keep his selection of seafood the freshest and most varied that he can.
“My dad [Charles Gerry] was a lobsterman for 30-plus years,” said Gerry. “I guess it’s a family tradition. He was definitely kind of an in for me as far as local fishermen go.”
While Harrigan’s prices are above supermarket prices, Gerry and his wife believe that you get what you pay for.
“We’re committed to giving the fishermen who supply us a very fair price. They deserve it,” said Gerry. “If the customer has to pay a little more for it, they know that they’re getting the freshest seafood possible, and that it’s directly benefiting the community. We pay fair and sell fair.”