This is not your father’s fish market. Spartan orange signage spells out the name of the store: Fish. Full stop. Step inside the newly opened storefront at 75 Water Street in Newburyport and the differences become clear.
No damp floors, crowded counters piled high with seafood, no hand-lettered signs announce “cash or check only”—this is a new experience. Fish, a spare industrial-chic space with accents of exposed wood and stainless steel, is located at The Tannery. It is open and welcoming, with more space for customers than for fish.
The friendly staff come out from behind the display case to chat with customers and help with choices, even suggesting ways to prepare and serve the seafood. Time it right, and there is a good chance that the ever-smiling proprietor will make a point of welcoming you personally.
Neither Fred Derr, nor his partner, Hillary Burr, comes from a line of fishermen or fishmongers; she’s an accountant and he’s an ex-salesman. Twenty years of on-the-road sales has left its imprint on Fred, who admits that one of his favorite parts of running the business is schmoozing with customers. He’s less enthusiastic about the long days that start with predawn runs in to the Boston markets to snag the best of the day’s catch and end late because he keeps the store open until 7 p.m. to make it easier for customers to stop in on their way home after work.
How did a former seller of electrical equipment end up opening a fish market in Newburyport? “I covered Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, frequenting fish markets throughout that territory, one of them being Harbor Fish Market up in Portland. I fell in love with it. I wanted a local place like that, some place I would want to shop at myself. That’s been a passion and a dream of mine for 15 years.”
Attending the International Boston Seafood Show in March finally sealed his determination that the time had come. When the lease on the space at 75 Water Street came up after Edible Arrangements moved out, Fred and Hillary jumped at the chance
Their store is tailor-made for the community and acutely tuned to a foodie and eco-conscious customer base. A casual attitude prevails. One window proudly declares: “We take seafood seriously. Ourselves, well, not so much.” Even the fish wrap is part of the customer experience, imprinted with the store’s GPS coordinates and peppered with corny graffiti like “Hooked” and “No crabby attitudes.”
The core concept and décor—simple yet sophisticated—came from Fred and Hillary, but they turned to Kelsy Stromski of Newburyport studio Refinery 43 for help with the branding. When it came down to stripping and redoing the interior of the store, Fred did a lot of the work himself, recruiting friends and drawing on his experience gutting and rebuilding his own house.
Ambiance is one thing, but fish is what Fish is ultimately about. Product tags in the artfully arranged display case announce not only the variety of the catch, but also where it was caught, and even in many cases, the name of the boat. The standbys of seafood are here regularly—halibut, haddock, tuna steaks, clams and diver scallops—but, depending on the fresh catch, you might also find highly prized striped bass from local waters, or even more exotic fare such as skate wing. The ethos carries over to the display by the window, where pans of fresh oysters on ice are labeled with the six to eight different areas from which they were sourced.
Owner Fred Derr
The store has only been open since August, and Fred is still fine-tuning it to the community and customers, closely watching what moves and what doesn’t, looking for ways to differentiate Fish from other North Shore retail outlets. He draws on his own years of preparing and eating seafood along with pointers from his brother-in-law, Pierre Juillard, a second-generation fisherman with a Chatham-based trawler. A recent inquiry from one customer led Fred to start carrying monkfish, supplied by Juillard. Monkfish, an all-mouth bottom-feeder often treated as bycatch in the United States but respected in Europe, is prized for its meaty tail, earning it the moniker “poor man’s lobster.” “We want to talk with our customers about ways to prep and cook as well,” says Derr. The store even features recipe cards on the current catch.
The best fresh fish and seafood, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a commitment to customer experience are their aims, and the reactions and early reviews from customers say they are on target.
75 Water St., Newburyport