CHATHAM – The iconic Chatham Fish Pier Market, founded more than half a century ago by Willard Nickerson, has been sold.
Steven Gennodie, who owns a fish processing company on the Boston Fish Pier and two retail fish markets on the South Shore, purchased the fish market and take-out eatery adjacent to the town's fish pier last month from Andy Baler for $1.2 million.
Gennodie said most of the market's staff will be staying on and he plans few changes other than updating equipment.
“I feel like it's a landmark,” he said. “It's such a gem. I'm definitely proud to own it and be part of the community.”
Gennodie, a Danvers resident who owns a home in Chatham, has operated the Rocky Neck Fish Company since 2004. Along with the processing facility in Boston, the company runs retail fish markets in Hingham and Milton. The Chatham market, he said, will benefit from his connections in the fishing industry, as well as his ability to buy product locally.
“I really feel like it's going to be a great match,” he said.
Baler purchased the 5,600-square-foot property at the foot of Barcliff Avenue Extension at a foreclosure auction in 2009. The owner of a seafood processing plant in Dennis and an aquaculture operation in Yarmouth, he opened Bluefins Sushi and Sake Bar in downtown Chatham in 2014. He is in the process establishing a second location in Falmouth, scheduled to open in late January or early February.
He said he wasn't actively looking to sell the fish market, but realized he was spread a bit thin; when Gennodie approached him, they sat down and talked, a conversation Gennodie likened to a job interview.
Baler said he wasn't going to sell to just anyone. He wanted to make sure any buyer knew the business and would treat the market with the respect due a local institution.
“It's not an easy business,” Baler said, but he felt Gennodie was “the right person to do the job. He's all about quality stuff.”
Gennodie said a neighbor who is a deck hand on a Chatham fishing boat clued him in that Baler may be thinking about selling. When they sat down for coffee one Sunday, they hit it off.
“That was it,” he said.
Willard Nickerson, known as “the codfather,” opened Nickerson's Fish and Lobster in the small building next to the fish pier in the 1950s. It was known for its fresh shellfish, lobsters and chowder, as well as local fish which was purchased right off the boats that docked at the adjacent pier. In the 1980s he sold the business, but in 2003 his son Willard brought the family back to the business.
Because of its location next to the pier, one of the town's most popular tourist attractions, the market does a brisk business in take-out food, such as fish and chips, during the summer months. The closure of the fish pier deck this summer while it is rebuilt was blow, especially early in the season, Baler said. “We did not make up that ground,” he said.
Baler has operated his processing plant since 1994 and leased an off-loading bay in the fish pier packing house for 15 years. Changes in the fishing industry convinced him to get out of the packing business. In recent years, along with the restaurant, he's been expanding his oyster farm, the largest grant in Yarmouth, he said.
“I can only do so much at once,” he said, “and I really like the restaurant business and it's working well.” He added that people warned him about the hours running a restaurant demanded. “My answer was if you were never in the fish business, you don't know hard work. I would say the restaurant business is a lot easier on an individual than any fishing business.”
Gennodie, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who worked at the Four Seasons in Boston, said he plans to open the market in the spring as usual, although he may do some wholesale business earlier. As of right now, he doesn't anticipate changing the name of the business.
This story was updated Jan. 2 to correct the location of Baler's new restaurant, which will be in Falmouth.