Seafood seller says he's trapped by Scarborough policy on home businesses

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SCARBOROUGH — Martin Macisso says he isn’t looking for special treatment, just “a fair playing field.”

Macisso, the owner of Scarborough Fish & Lobster Market at 697 Route 1, has been selling lobster, clams, haddock and shrimp at Dunstan Corner for 25 years, carrying on the tradition his uncle began in the 1940s. He and his wife live in a home behind the store.

But a drop in his lobster sales last summer – a season when tourists historically have given his business a boost – forced Macisso to take a closer look at roadside lobster sales in residential areas of town, he said. And when he drove around town, he found several sandwich boards advertising lobster for sale from people’s garages, homes and trucks.

“There were six guys selling lobster out of trucks within three miles of my business,” he said.

With none of the overhead costs Macisso must shell out, these home businesses are able to undersell him and escape regulations, he said. At the same time, he supports local lobstermen all year long by buying from a wholesaler who buys from them, he said. Right now, his cost to buy lobster is $4.50 a pound.

Macisso said costs for doing business at his store run about $2,000 a month and include expenses and fees for a retail seafood license; a food handler’s license; a resale certificate; a Department of Agriculture food and rural resource license; a certificate of occupancy from the town; business equipment taxes; a commercial electric bill twice the rate of a residential bill; business insurance; a sign permit; Fire Department inspections; and workers’ compensation, Social Security and Medicare contributions for his employees.

The last expense is one he doesn’t have to worry about right now. Though he generally lays off two of his employees in the winter months, this fall, the 40 percent drop in his business – 30 percent of which he believes is due to competition from residential businesses – forced him to lay off all four of his workers, leaving him to run his business alone, seven days a week.

Three home businesses recently received variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals and were approved for food handler’s licenses at Wednesday’s Town Council meeting.

During the meeting, Macisso accused the ZBA of subsidizing these businesses by allowing them to operate from their homes rather than incur the expense of a storefront.

“You’d think (the ZBA) would be trying to get (the commercial vacancies in town) filled up,” he said.

But that’s not his only complaint. Macisso charged that some of these home businesses fail to limit their operations to the hours on their ZBA applications and are not necessarily selling only what they catch themselves. Macisso told the council these are retail businesses, and said some are advertising in newspapers and hiring employees to work for them.

“I have no problem with someone wanting to be a small businessman, but don’t subsidize this,” he said. “If they want to be in the retail business, then pay what I have to pay to be in business.”

And Macisso also questioned whether the home businesses had all the required equipment and facilities for their licenses, like a temperature-controlled tank, a sink and a bathroom.

Though councilors on Wednesday approved the three food handlers’ licenses, saying they could not overturn the Zoning Board of Appeals decision, they did agree to look into the issue with the intent of crafting an ordinance for better control.

“I think this town has been caught a little bit asleep at the wheel,” Councilor Mike Wood said.

Macisso on Thursday said he could have closed Oct. 1, instead of staying open through the holidays, and not seen any difference in his income.

“There is no business,” he said. “I’m on the verge of putting my lobster tanks in the barn and putting an apartment out front (in the retail space).”

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected].