Beaver Street Fisheries outgrowing its space

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

What started as a small fish market on Beaver Street has become one of the top seafood processors and suppliers in the country and that’s going to affect one of Jacksonville’s oldest businesses.

In 1950, brothers Alfred and Hans Frisch had a small concrete block building and just one truck. They would drive as far as they could every night covering the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, buying seafood to bring back to the store the next day to supply Jacksonville’s restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and retail customers who wanted the freshest fish and shrimp available.

Beaver Street Fisheries eventually outgrew that first location and is now a modern warehouse facility covering two city blocks on Beaver Street and the site of a United States Department of Commerce-inspected seafood processing plant. Today, the company imports, processes, packages and distributes fish and seafood from 50 different countries around the world and supplies its products to many major retailers.

If you buy a frozen lobster tail or snow crab legs or breaded shrimp at a Wal-Mart anywhere in America, it once spent the night in the warehouse on Beaver Street.

Last month, the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission approved a $250,000 grant and the State is contributing Qualified Target Industry tax refunds for the construction of a 185,000 square-foot frozen food processing and storage facility across the street from the current complex. The facility is expected to create 50 new jobs at an average salary of $40,000 per year.

The development is a joint venture between BSF and Preferred Freezer Services, a national cold-storage firm based in New Jersey and will require more than $28 million of private investment.

“Mostly what we do here is packaging,” said Jeff Edwards, Beaver Street Fisheries CFO. “We needed more space to store our products and it will allow us to handle more product. We also saw a need for more cold-storage availability in Jacksonville.”

BSF won’t be the new freezer’s only customer. Space will also be available on a monthly rental basis for food brokers, shippers and the public.

“Think of it as a hotel. Instead of rooms, they rent pallets,” said Edwards.

When the new freezer facility was announced, it was apparent the new construction would force the Beaver Street Farmers Market to move. That caused quite a stir. The market is a Jacksonville landmark and has been in business since horse-drawn carts first brought the produce to the stalls in 1938. It is the largest Farmers Market in North Florida and the only one open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The growers supply fresh fruits and vegetables to wholesalers, restaurants, groceries and caterers as well as thousands of retail customers.

“We run the Farmers Market for the community,” said Edwards.

One possibility put on the table was to move the market Downtown, but with as many as 150 stalls handling thousands of tons of produce per year, it’s much more involved than Downtown Vision Inc.’s Friday Farmers Market at Hemming Plaza.

“We talked to the City, but there is not a location available anywhere Downtown big enough to accommodate the Farmers Market,” said Edwards. “Our intent is to relocate the Farmers Market to the adjacent property.”

He also said the City is supporting the move to keep the market open since 90 percent of the stalls are run by small and/or minority businesses.

Walt Wehlauch, Farmers Market manager, said he thinks his customers will like the new location next door.

“We’re not going to have any wasted space,” said Wehlauch. “Eventually, there will be more stalls than what we have now. It will be set up better so people can get in and get out easier and (it will be) easier to manage for security.”

Wehlauch added he doesn’t think the move will make a big difference for customers.

“People are just going to turn right instead of left.”