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  • Portsmouth Herald

    Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier eager to open after storm damage: 'We're going to be here'

    By Ian Lenahan, Portsmouth Herald,

    2024-03-22
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3sNIac_0s1IJJkR00

    KITTERY, Maine — Kittery Point’s cherished Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier has been pulled off the market, nearly a year after it was listed for sale for $3.9 million. The waterfront business' crew is repairing damage from coastal storms and preparing to open this spring.

    Third-generation owner Ron Spinney, 76, estimates the restaurant was hit with at least $30,000 worth of damage from the storms, high tides and flooding in January, followed by another storm in late February.

    Three-and-a-half feet of water stood in the kitchen before the tide went out during the January storms, submerging the restaurant’s hot water heater, burners and other equipment. All the freezers were placed on double crates to avoid the water during the storms, but one was caught in the water, floating for a time before the tide flipped it over.

    After the January storms, when the list price of the property had been decreased to $2.95 million, Spinney had his realtor remove the listing entirely. With no plans to have Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier re-listed in the immediate future, Spinney, who had been inching closer to retirement, is working with his staff to have the restaurant ready to open by Mother’s Day in May.

    “We’re going to be here,” he said.

    Chauncey Creek employees strapped on their boots and gloves at the start of March to begin repairing damages to the pier.

    Spinney estimated it would cost millions of dollars to raise buildings in the Chauncey Creek area to put them at a higher elevation and out of harm’s way during storms, flooding and high tides. That said, the damage caused by the January storms, in addition to one in late February, were the worst he’s witnessed at the pier that were caused by rain, winds and high tide.

    “Definitely the worst one,” Spinney said.

    Damage reminiscent of Blizzard of 1978

    The wrath from the trio of 2024 storms rivals the damage caused by the Blizzard of 1978, Spinney said. Friends from Massachusetts traveled to visit Spinney that year, though the heavy snow blocked them from advancing past the old Frisbee Market, so Spinney had to pick them up on a snowmobile. The snow from the extreme event caused the Chauncey Creek pier to collapse, which took 10 men to help Spinney rebuild.

    “I live on Gerrish Island. If you looked across the marsh at Seapoint Beach, the waves were coming completely over the marsh and coming down through here,” he said of the recent storms. “It was crazy.”

    Spinney said the restaurant was almost sold last year to a serious bidder from Newburyport, Massachusetts, for just shy of $3 million, but the buyer backed out. Chauncey Creek, which was established in 1948, originally as Herb Witham's Lobster Pier, then operated the entire 2023 summer season without another nibble from a prospective buyer.

    Spinney says he won't be part of day-to-day operation

    With all hands on deck and the storms in the rear-view mirror, Chauncey Creek will reopen this spring for another season serving lobsters, seafood dishes and fried baskets.

    But when it does, Spinney won't be the one running it day in and day out. He recently relinquished everyday operations to 11-year employee Cameron Barrett, the pier's manager.

    “I’m excited. It’s one of my favorite spots in the world. We’ve got a majority of our crew coming back, so it’ll be good,” said Barrett, 24, about the upcoming season. “Everybody’s excited. It’s kind of like a big family experience down here.”

    “We have a lot of employees that have been here a long time,” he added. “I get texts and messages all the time from people saying, ‘How’s everything going? Do you need help down there?’ Everybody’s really invested altogether. I don’t think you see that at too many places.”

    Retirement no longer the focus

    Retirement was within reach for Spinney last year. One year later, with repairs to the restaurant underway, he isn’t focused on a full retirement anymore.

    “I’ll run some of the errands, but I’m not picking up 120-pound crates of lobsters and carrying them anymore. None of that crap,” he joked.

    The restaurant’s founder and original namesake, Witham, is Spinney’s great uncle, who passed down the business to Ron Spinney’s father, George Spinney. Ron Spinney, a former submarine repairman at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, then bought the lobster pier from his father in 1984 and has owned and operated it ever since.

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