Out of Our Past

Sea Pier to Carter’s Wharf, Part III

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 7:15am

Douglas and Becky Carter opened Sea Pier to fishermen in July 1996 after renovating the aquarium. Many townspeople wanted to buy into the business, but it was too costly and complex to bring others in. After opening, Sea Pier offered to buy lobsters (for the first time on the property), sea urchins, and shrimp from anyone, and offered to sell bait and fuel to all. It also welcomed the public to the restaurant, which specialized in lobsters, corn, stew, mussels, hot dogs, and blueberry bread. Those who wanted burgers and fries were told to patronize the co-op; both businesses helped each other if needed.

Running Sea Pier

The restaurant was a good moneymaker, but it was too exhausting to run the business and the restaurant, so they shut the restaurant after four years, about when the co-op dissolved.

Billy Hallinan moved to Sea Pier where he sold his catch and bought his fuel and bait. The business would also order supplies that their fishermen needed. Those who sold their catch were paid every day rather than weekly, after expenses were deducted from the total.

Regarding long-term employees at Sea Pier, Scott Sears was Douglas’s right-hand man during the first seven years, and Laura Hughes did bookwork for Douglas over 35 years, both at the co-op and at Sea Pier. Becky managed the restaurant and cooked also. For some years Terry Brewer worked for Douglas, opening up in the morning so the fishermen could get supplies before the day started, and he stayed around part of the morning. Randy Durgan was his right-hand man the last five years.

Over the years Sea Pier was often called Carter’s or Carter’s Wharf. About 2008 the availability of sea urchins collapsed; shrimp did the same about five years later. That left Sea Pier dealing only with lobster. Eventually 40 or 50 fishermen patronized the business. Douglas never put up the business as collateral, having seen many go under that way.

Looking to Retire

In early fall 2017 Douglas decided he’d look into retiring. He started spreading the word he was looking for a buyer. American and Canadian dealers were interested, as well as real estate developer Paul Coulombe. All of those he talked to backed off once they learned Douglas intended to restrict the deed to fishermen and working waterfront, though at a considerably reduced price because of the consequent loss of value. Some kept dickering but to no avail. He’d hoped someone would buy it and donate it to the town, but knew that was a long shot since the town already had a fish wharf.

Development Pressures

Throughout much of 2018 there was continual action on the Harbor’s boards to handle development plans that were focused on the east side. That was accompanied with disagreement about the direction the town should take: whether to revamp and modernize or keep an old-time feel, and that was overlaid with zoning controversies. The east side became a constant newspaper and over-coffee topic which raised the awareness of the stakes, such that some townspeople were moved to action. Many feared that, given the possible zoning changes contemplated, maritime industries wouldn’t be able to afford Harbor waterfront property or compete with tourist-oriented establishments.

On Aug. 6, 2018, Douglas talked to some town benefactors who’d learned that he wanted to sell restricted waterfront. They met Aug. 12 and were interested but did not want to actually buy and run a non-profit or a commercial wharf; they “wanted to make sure that something, anything, was protected for working waterfront access to the water now and for future generations.” They wanted to provide the means for others to operate a buying station. On Aug. 15 Deanne Tibbetts contacted Douglas about her plans to launch a working waterfront non-profit, as has been done elsewhere on the coast. She told me what galvanized her, “I walk to Spruce Point Inn every day during the summer months and that would take me past Sea Pier. When I learned that the planning board was looking at changing the Maritime District to a Mixed Use District I worried about what the increased competition from other uses would do to the wharves that were right in the middle of that area.” On Aug. 17, Douglas talked further to one of the benefactors. Soon Douglas, Deanne, and the benefactors were in touch as cooperating parties. All three of the parties had been independently working toward the same goal, concerned by the development pressure.

Handing It On

On Jan. 31, 2019, Douglas and John Fish were paid for the Sea Pier property by the benefactors, who thereby became anonymous donors. Douglas deeded Sea Pier with its restrictions to the anonymous donors. The donors, in turn, deeded it to the non-profit, Boothbay Region Maritime Foundation, which Deanne had set up. Douglas also released to the foundation the church property lease, with church permission.

On Feb. 9, 2019, Deanne notified Douglas that Sea Pier would be renamed Carter’s Wharf, which was very gratifying for him. He continued serving the fishermen at Sea Pier until February 20 when Luke’s Lobster took over the operation. That day Deanne wrote him, “Looks like we’re good. You’re officially retired. Thanks for keeping everything together as the lawyers worked things out.”

When the details were all sorted out, Douglas and Becky said, “We are forever grateful to Deanne Tibbetts and the anonymous donors. If it hadn’t been for them, all of this wouldn’t have happened.”