---- — A customer comes in and asks for a three-quarters-of-a-pound of salmon. A near perfect piece is placed on the scale, weighing in at .8 of a pound.
It used to be that such a piece would be fine for customers who would pay for the fresh fish and be on their way. But not today, says the owner of Hometown Seafoods, a staple in the downtown for the past two decades. It’s OK to buy a smaller piece, but not a larger one.
“Fish is expensive, I know that,” said Gene Marshall, owner. “But it’s so different today. My customers will not buy more than they say. It’s expensive for them.”
Marshall said it’s for “economic” reasons that he is closing his 20-year business in Andover. Hometown Seafoods, located at 28 Chestnut St. since 2000 and on Barnard Street for seven years before that, will close May 1. It has established itself as a market with high quality fish, and it has a small restaurant section, too, that does a healthy fried fish takeout business.
There is no rent increase forcing the closure, as has happened with some other downtown businesses. Rather, it’s the overall cost of running his seafood business that has forced this decision. Paying for things like rent, utilities and gas are just too costly, Marshall said.
“Today’s economic conditions have driven our overhead costs to a point where we can no longer continue to operate,” Marshall wrote in a closing announcement to customers.
“I don’t even want to close. I just have to. I have great customers, but I have to close,” he said. “I won’t lose my house...I just won’t do that.”
But there is some good news swimming around the closure announcement. Marshall is taking his fresh fish business online and plans to deliver fish to Andover residents twice a week. Wrapped to stay fresh in a returnable cooler, the fish will be delivered to doorsteps on Tuesdays and Fridays. Orders can be placed online on Mondays and Thursdays.
“I’m not really technical. At this point, this is a work in progress,” he said. “But I’m doing this for customers. I have such great customers in Andover, North Andover and North Reading.”
Marshall, who runs the store with his wife, Debbie, and son, Gene Jr., guarantees freshness. He operates a fish stall in Gloucester where he cuts the fish. He will continue to run the stall and plans to cut fish to fill an order (like two pounds of haddock), wrap the fish order and then make his Andover deliveries. Customers will pay for their online orders with credit cards.
Details of his new online fresh fish business are available at his store.