NARRAGANSETT - After overcoming heavy damage from Hurricane Sandy, Skip’s Dock is open for the season. With a rich history dating back to the early 1900s, the Trager family owned and operated retail seafood market on Succotash Road in Jerusalem has overcome similar adversity in the past to remain loyal to generations of customers.
For Trager brothers Bob, Erik and Chris, boyhood summers in the 1970s were spent exploring Point Judith Pond and the docks along Jerusalem–searching for crabs, diving off the State Pier, eating fresh seafood from nearby waters, and hearing tales of the old days from the old timers– some recalling the good old days, some reflecting on tougher times. The Hurricane of ‘38 conjured up plenty of memories for those who lived through it, and there was no shortage of stories told to anyone who would listen. But it was the accounts of Hurricane Carol in 1954 that were particularly significant in the lives of the Trager boys: Bob, Erik and Chris. It was in that brutal storm members of their father’s family, two generations with a long history of calling Jerusalem home, were lost to the hurricane that devastated local coastal communities from Westerly to Narragansett.
In 1976, when the time was right for a change in his career, the boys’ father, Robert Trager, made a commitment to stay in Jerusalem, an area with so many memories and deep traditions in his family. Formally a guidance counselor and teacher, Trager, along with his wife Ingrid, became the owner of Skip’s Dock, a retail seafood market.
“Earnest ‘Skip’ Streeter started Skip’s Dock between 1906 and 1909 further down the pond towards Wakefield, possibly near what is now Marina Park” said Erik Trager. “In 1921 he moved to our present location in Jerusalem. There he owned and operated it until he died in 1952, then his daughter ran it for a couple of years. It was sold to Jim Hartley who owned it until 1960, calling it Jim’s Dock –no affiliation to the current Jim’s Dock next door, which I believe was Johnny’s Dock at the time. In 1960, Ed Baranski and his wife bought it, and having known and worked with Streeter, his loyalty had him change the name back to Skip’s Dock.”
When the elder Robert Trager purchased the property, comprised of five buildings, the clan called it home. Erik Trager recalls some of the early hard times. “We lived there on the property for a year or two, and let me tell you, even though I was young I remember some extremely cold winters,” he said. “The winters of ‘76 through ‘78 were some of the coldest we’ve ever had. The blizzard of ‘78 did extensive damage to our dock.”
With the constant threat of coastal storms and hurricanes, damage to docks and structures in Jerusalem continue to be fodder for future tales to be told. The most recent wrath of nature, 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, caused extensive destruction in the area, although no lives were lost in Rhode Island this time.
“Sandy did it,” said Erik Trager, now the proprietor of Skip’s Dock, along with brother Chris and their parents. “Four out of our five buildings were affected, with three completely destroyed. The fish market looked structurally safe, but the building was moved and had no support. The dock looked like a roller coaster.” Trager came to assess the damage as soon as Succotash Road into Jerusalem was barely passable, around midnight after the late October landfall of Sandy. “I traveled through at least 150 yards of sand five feet deep that night,” he said. “The sight was devastating. I didn’t know if we could recover.”
But in keeping with the spirit of Skip’s Dock, and the 37-year Trager family tradition, the seafood market has recovered.
“We’ve been rallying,” shared Trager. “I had some doubts, it was tough, but we made it. We got the retail store open for the season. Dave (Dave DeCubellis, owner of nearby Jim’s Dock) and the rest of us down here had some long days in January and February getting ready, but we did it and we have a lot of people to thank.”
Along with retail, Skip’s Dock offers prepared take-out foods– there’s just no place to sit and eat this year, yet.
“Along with fresh local fish in our retail market, we’ve been doing prepared food for a number of years,” said Trager. “We shuck our own quahogs for the clam cakes and chowder, cook lobster on site for lobster rolls, make our stuffies and seafood salad all on the premises. The sitting area is gone from the storm but we’re going to get that back, hopefully by the end of the season or early fall.” For now, people for whom a Jerusalem summer means Skip’s clam cakes and chowder or Block Island fried scallops or a fresh lobster roll gladly bring it home to eat. And for those who prefer to cook at home over a fire pit, clambakes prepared with the best local ingredients are offered with a call in advance.
“We are down here determined to keep it a lifestyle. We’ve always had a great reputation for a high quality local product, long before keeping it local was a popular catch phrase,” said Trager. “I’ve seen generations of families pass through here–Skip Streeter’s great niece came by just the other day– and we’re doing our best, doing it the way it should be done.”
Now a father himself, Erik Trager has profound feelings about the legacy that is Skip’s Dock. “I watch my son Nate playing on the docks down here like I once did. With my brother Chris working in the market, along with my nieces Jessica and Jillian, and my Mom and Dad close by, it is truly a family affair. Like farming…this is what we do and how we live.”
For more information, call 783-9501 or 783-5031 or stop by Skip’s Dock at 1161 Succotash Road, Narragansett.