Danny Louis Larsen, 62, of Edgartown has reason to be surprised by his own success. When he started Edgartown Seafood 25 years ago, Mr. Larsen knew fish, but he wasn’t sure about retail.
“I didn’t think I would like it,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to deal with the people. I didn’t think they’d be able to deal with me.”
But for all his worries it turns out he is the most popular item in the store. The store is small but usually filled with customers and fishermen all enjoying conversations with the owner, even about matters beyond fish. In fact, the door rarely has a chance to stay closed, with quahaugs from the local flats coming in, and customers carrying bags of fresh fillets headed out.
Mr. Larsen said he is surprised by how busy his days get. In one day during the summer, he said he can go through a whole case of lemons.
The activity inside the store is constricted by the amount of parking outside.
“I wouldn’t want it to be bigger,” Mr. Larsen said, adding that his customers are understanding about the parking. “They know the drill. Hey, parking is a problem all over the Island. They know what to do.”
Before moving to its present location, the site of the former Mercier’s Hardware store, Edgartown Seafood was located for nine years at the Depot Corner gas station. The current location can’t be beat for prominence. The store marks the entrance to Cooke street, off Main, and is across the street from Memorial Park.
“I started the store with nothing,” Mr. Larsen said. “I would have preferred to start with the money and then worked backward. But, in my case, I started with nothing and I am working to make the money.”
But there is a contradiction in his next breath. “I am certainly not doing it for the money,” he said. “I do it for the people.”
Mr. Larsen is an authority on local fish. Throughout his youth he watched his father Louis S. Larsen and two uncles go out to sea and come back with thousands of pounds of fish in one trip.
For many years Mr. Larsen was also a fisherman and he fished with the best including Turtle Lawry, who once owned an Edgartown fishmarket, too. Lawry’s Fish Market used to be located up the street.
“I liked him,” Mr. Larsen said. “He was a character.”
As a high school student, Mr. Larsen fished on the 83-foot fishing boats Chilmark Sword and Chilmark Voyager, both built by Blount Marine in Warren, R.I., and launched in 1964. The boats were commissioned and owned by his father and uncles, Dagbard Karsten Larsen and Bjarne W. Larsen. The men pursued swordfish and traveled to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, to Georges Bank down and to the waters off Cape Hatteras.
“When I was a teenager, all my friends had girlfriends and summer jobs. Me? I went fishing,” he said.
Later, like his siblings, he took an interest in reeling in customers over netting and hooking fish. His sister Betsy owns Larsen’s Fish Market in Menemsha. His brother Louis S. Larsen owns Net Result in Vineyard Haven. His sister Christine works with Betsy at the Menemsha Fish Market, which was started by their father.
Owning a fish market requires a strong work ethic. Mr. Larsen is up early and works late.
“I am usually here by 5:30 a.m. in the summer,” he said. During the other three seasons it is more like seven o’clock.
On Tuesday of this week, customers rushed in and out of the store, each one ready with a comment about Mr. Larsen.
“I’ve known him since he was a boy,” said Dorothy Chaffee of Edgartown as she browsed for dinner.
Minutes later, Debi Rubel arrived. She said she was leaving the Vineyard and heading home to Connecticut. “He is a very funny guy,” she said. “Plus, he is really nice. I come in here every day.”
The success of the store, though, is not just due to one man. TJ Giegler, 33, wearing a signature Red Sox cap, is Mr. Larsen’s right-hand man. He began working at the market 15 years ago and said he is amazed at the business’s longevity.
“It is hard to be in business for 25 years on Martha’s Vineyard, for any business,” he said.
Mr. Larsen’s wife, Marie, is a behind-the-scenes partner. “She does all the fish reports,” Mr. Larsen said, and there are plenty of reports to file. His son Daniel delivers freshly-harvested shellfish.
“All my kids have worked for me,” Mr. Larsen said. In addition to Daniel, there are Heidi, Aaron and Sam. He also has six grandchildren.
Mr. Larsen has a raspy voice that is easily likable and his language is colorful.
“You say my language is colorful?” he asked. “Maybe I’ll work on it this winter.”
Swearing was a big part of a fisherman’s life, he admitted. “Those words were used for punctuation.” You can begin a sentence or end it with one of those words, he said.
Looking back, Mr. Larsen said he is glad he gave up fishing.
“You can’t go fishing anymore. It is a job. They tell you when you can go, how much you can catch and how you can catch it. You need a permit for everything you do. Plus, you’ll have to report it when you are all done.”
Owning a fish market seems to fit him just fine. “I like to eat fish,” he said, adding “I’ll eat about anything. But I won’t eat lima beans.”
Mr. Larsen’s sister Betsy hints at another possible profession, though — one that is also well-suited to retail.
“He is the funniest man in the world,” she said. “He should have been a stand-up comedian.”