Dave Webb has been working at Maryland's Wholesale Seafood Market in Jessup since 1984. For two thirds of those three decades, he has been manning the state-run center's only retail outlet: Frank's Seafood.
So when the longtime owner of Frank's suddenly closed the market in September 2014 for personal reasons, few people were more affected than Webb, although he certainly wasn't the only one lamenting the loss of the Howard County mainstay.
"The customers were shocked, devastated," Webb said recalling the shutdown. "That's where people shopped for fish – Frank's Seafood."
Starting this month, thanks in part to Webb, customers will again have an option at the center as New York-based Wild's Seafood has opened a retail market inside the space formerly occupied by Frank's.
The market, which opened last week, is scheduled to have a grand opening Saturday, Feb. 28, says Webb, who was brought on to manage the new market. The market's hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m., Sunday.
Webb says Wild's aims to deliver the same seafood that Frank's did for decades. The list includes fresh crabs, lobster, shrimp and all types of fish. The market also sells some frozen items and ancillary seafood products. Webb said the main product is crab, and that the most popular times of the year are summer holidays like Father's Day, Mother's Day and Independence Day.
According to John Hong, the accountant for Wild Seafood, the New York-based company was interested in expanding it's reach in the Washington, Maryland and Virginia area. It currently operates two markets and one restaurant in New York.
Hong said Wild's identified the space shortly after it became available, but the opening has been delayed because of construction. Grandfathered status allowed Frank's to bypass certain health regulations that Wild's had to address to meet code requirements.
Rose Harrell, director of facilities for the Maryland Food Center Authority, the government agency that owns the location and leases it to tenants, said it was important to replace Frank's and provide a retail outlet to customers.
"We really wanted to get another retail company in that facility," said Harrell, adding that the state agency was happy that Wild's showed an interest.
"We are very glad to bring in an out-of-state company," she said. "They had heard what had happened, and they have customers in the area so they were interested in having a portion of the business here."
Harrell said Wild's has assumed the remaining term on Frank's lease, which ran until June. She said the state issues five-year leases, and that Wild's will be issued a new lease once the old one is up.
Harrell said a key to bringing back a retail presence was retaining Webb to run the place because of his connections to the clientele.
"Dave ran Frank's so successfully for so many years," Harrell said. "We were doing everything we could to keep him on because of the influence he had in the community.
"We are very happy that Dave is now back and working on the market. He has so many customers and contacts that will follow him."
Webb's gregarious personality and visibility are no doubt what endears him to customers.
"Every customer around here knows me," Webb said. "I'm like the mayor up here."
The facility, located at 7901 Oceano Avenue in Jessup, is home to a number of wholesale seafood retailers including Congressional Seafood, E. Goodwin & Sons, J.J. McDonnell Co., NAFCO Wholesale Fish Dealers and Reliant Fish Company.
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Last year, NAFCO and Congressional announced they would be moving to a new $8.9 million, 88,000-square-foot building to be built next door. The land used to build the property was acquired from the state agency.