HARPSWELL — Uncertainty looms over the waterfront at Bailey Island’s Garrison Cove, where the commercial wharf at Cooks Lobster & Ale House will be auctioned off Tuesday, April 25.
The top bidder is not obligated to keep the wharf or continue leasing it to Eastern Traders, the lobster dealer that employs three long-time workers and serves many area fishermen.
“People have been asking me, are you going to still have a job?” Wade Johnson, who works at the wharf, said Tuesday morning.
Interest in the property has come from “up and down the Eastern Seaboard,” auctioneer Michael Carey of Tranzon said at a preview of the property Tuesday.
It also comes from as close as next door. Nick and Jen Charboneau, owners of Cook’s Lobster & Ale House, said they would bid on the property if they are able to secure financing.
The auction will take place on site at 11 a.m.
Johnson said he would be surprised if the buyer tries to change it from a wharf because the property is set up for commercial seafood sales and ill-suited for other development.
According to Harbormaster Jim Hays, the wharf is in a shoreland commercial zone where a marina would be allowed, but “it’s completely set up for (lobster-buying),” Johnson said.
An hour into Tuesday’s showing, only one person had toured the property – two parties toured it at last week’s preview – and he asked Johnson about the wharf equipment. But none of the interested parties indicated to Johnson what their plans might be, he said.
“My experience is that people tend to hold their cards a little tight to their chest” when considering a property with an associated business attached, Carey added.
The wharf includes two buildings, a bait shed, a tank room and more than 9,000 square feet of deck. It is assessed at $469,400, according to tax records.
Still, Johnson said he isn’t too anxious about job security.
“Most likely, somebody’s going to keep the stuff that’s here,” he said.
That’s what the Charboneaus would do.
“We’d just like to keep the property whole,” Nick Charboneau said, standing at the back door of the restaurant Tuesday morning.
If the Charboneaus buy the property, they would would bring the restaurant and adjacent wharf back under the same ownership, as it previously was under Norman Parent.
Parent sought bankruptcy protections in 2015. That led to the sale of the restaurant to the Charoneaus for $1.25 million, and next week’s court-ordered auction of the wharf.
As a part of the sale agreement, the parties worked out an arrangement where the two businesses share parking.
The agreement also allows area fishermen to store their traps on the restaurant’s land. Otherwise, Johnson said, they would have to truck their equipment back to their homes.
Charboneau added the wharf needs significant repairs, especially to the underside, which could cost as much as $500,000.
“Hopefully, whoever gets it will put the work into it,” he said. “Or it could be a relic in the ocean.”
He wasn’t exaggerating.
Cook’s General Manager Mary Coombs recalled the time a newspaper reporter fell through the deck a few summers ago while touring the property for a story. The woman was not seriously injured, but a massive hole can still be seen in the corner where she fell.
The area is now roped off, requiring passengers who depart the Casco Bay Lines ferry – which stops at the cove every day during the summer – to make their way to shore by cutting through the tank room, according to Johnson.
But it’s area lobstermen who use the wharf most regularly during the summer.
Johnson and his colleagues know these fishermen well.
When Nobleboro-based Eastern Traders signed a lease agreement last year, Johnson and two of his co-workers were kept on; one of them has worked at the wharf for about 25 years.
He said if the wharf shuts down it would create an inconvenience for the fishermen who have moored their boats at Garrison Cove for generations and would have to “go out of their way” to sell their product elsewhere.
“There would be a lot of grumbling because the fishermen in that area have been there since day one,” Hays agreed, saying there is a lengthy waiting list for moorings near Cook’s.
The iconic wharf at Cook’s Lobster & Ale House in Harpswell will be on the auction block April 25. The owners of the restaurant have said they are interested in buying the property and keeping the lobster-dealing business on the wharf open.
A large hole in the deck of the wharf at Cook’s Lobster & Ale House. The wharf, to be auctioned off April 25, is in need of repairs estimated at around $500,000.