After two generations, the venerable Earp’s Seafood is changing hands

Earp’s Seafood, a staple of Raleigh for generations, has been sold to an apartment developer.
Earp’s Seafood, a staple of Raleigh for generations, has been sold to an apartment developer.

After two generations of being owned and operated by members of the Earp family, Earp’s Seafood on South Saunders Street in Raleigh is changing hands.

WAJ Management, an apartment manager and developer, bought the property from Nancy Earp Salmon, the daughter of the store’s founder, on Monday for $880,000, according to Wake County property records.

For now, things will continue on normally at the seafood market at 1414 S. Saunders St.

Jim Adams, director of development and acquisitions for Raleigh-based WAJ Management, told The News & Observer that there are no “definitive” plans for the 0.6-acre property and that the company plans to keep operating the business as is. Daniel Stewart — Salmon’s son-in-law who has been running the store for the past eight years — will still operate the business day to day.

“It is our hope that Daniel will be greeting happy customers for many years to come,” Adams said. “The new ownership understands the importance of family and tradition. It is our goal that customers will continue to see and feel that respect whenever they visit Earp’s Seafood.”

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A mural on the outside of the Earp’s Seafood store in southern Raleigh. Zachery Eanes

That willingness to keep the store running and allow Stewart to manage it was one reason Salmon felt comfortable selling the property. Salmon — who stopped working at the store many years ago after discovering a deadly allergy to shellfish — has had health problems in recent years.

“I am 72, I would have loved to go on trips and stuff but in the shape I am in now I can’t walk without a walker,” Salmon said in an interview last month. “But maybe, I am hoping with all the stress off of me, it will be a new way for me.”

Earp’s Seafood began 52 years ago, when it was founded by Herbert Earp, who had left a job working at the Dr. Pepper Bottling Co, and his wife, Mary. The family says that Herbert started with only $50 to create the store, which brings in fish daily from the coast.

Over the past five decades, the store has been run by members of the family, becoming a staple of Raleigh’s retail landscape along the way. With its light blue awning, a bright and multi-colored mural of fish and prominent white letters that spell out the family’s name, the store is somewhat of a landmark thanks to its location on a main thoroughfare leading into the southern entrance to downtown.

After Herbert died in his late 50s, Mary Earp ran the store well into her 80s, before Salmon took over the day-to-day operations of running the market. Mary Earp died in 2015 at the age of 90.

The business took a big blow in 2011, after a tornado came through southern Raleigh and damaged many homes and businesses, including Earp’s, where Salmon said only the walls were left standing. But the business persevered.

“Well it’s done good through the years,” Salmon said. “Now we got hit by that tornado and that hurt. We were out of business for 10 months, but I am gonna tell you, my Momma was a smart business woman. Thank God she had insurance, because we were able to pay our employees the whole time.”

Because of that history and family connection, it was obviously a tough decision to sell.

“I hesitated on it because my Daddy raised us saying ... ‘the only thing you’ve got was your name,’” Salmon said. “That is what he used to quote to us kids: ‘Always keep your name clean.’”

But the new owners assured her they would honor the family’s legacy, she said, so she relented.

“As longtime Earp’s Seafood customers, we had great admiration for the legacy Nancy and David Earp built and knew that Earp’s Seafood market was much more valuable than just the land,” said Adams, who helps run WAJ Management with Bill and Ragan Ramsey. “Having ... grown up and worked in family business, the opportunity to continue this family legacy of success was very attractive to us.”

Adams said WAJ Management became interested in the property after looking at nearby land.

“We consider virtually all of Raleigh to be prime for growth and this area is certainly no exception,” he said, noting that the company is still interested in acquiring more land near Earp’s.

The area south of downtown has attracted a flood of money from homeowners and developers in recent years. The area is flanked by the city’s thriving downtown core, the future Dorothea Dix Park and neighborhoods that are seeing new homes placed on the market at more than $400,000 — prices that would’ve been considered inconceivable several years ago.

Raleigh-based Trademark Properties’ agent Sandra Simpson represented the seller and Jonathan Bassi, also of Trademark, represented the buyer.

Salmon said the new owners talked to her about investing more money in the business and possibly expanding and adding a kitchen or a food truck.

But, so far, it is unclear if that will transpire. Adams would only say that there are no definitive plans for Earp’s Seafood yet.

“Wish that I had more to report to you, but as of now, we are just a proud seafood market owner,” he said.

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Zachery Eanes covers real estate, technology and other business-related news for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun.