Crab E Bills in Sebastian is set to close in June after its building was condemned two years ago.
Customers, fishermen and supporters of the business filled the City Council meeting Wednesday asking to keep the fish market open while repairs are made but commissioners voted simply to extend the lease to June 1.
Its original end-of-lease was March.
“If there’s anything the city can do to help them, we’re willing to do it, except we can’t keep them in there and fix the building,” Sebastian Mayor Ed Dodd said. “How do you take an old building in which the timbers could fall over and put a construction crew in there to modify it with people selling fish? You can’t do it.”
The building has been around for nearly 100 years, dating back to the prohibition era where according to Dodd, it was used to store contraband liquor.
Despite its history, the building is not historical and for the last 13 years has been the home of Crab E Bills as a fish market and restaurant.
Two years ago the restaurant portion of the building was condemned due to damage.
The main building is said to be 18 inches below the main water level. To save it, the building would need to be raised.
“A building like that with the structural issues it’s got, it’s got rotting timbers in the ceiling and the roof, it’s got rotting timbers in the walls. To raise the building up probably would mean it falls apart as part of raising it up,” Dodd said.
An estimate to repair it would be roughly $2 million.
According to the lease, the city was in charge of maintaining the exterior.
“So how come the city didn’t maintain the exterior?” WPTV reporter Joel Lopez asked.
“The city did maintain, that’s one of those little white lies that’s been floating around,” Dodd answered.
He said the city reroofed the building and did repair work but didn’t realize the amount of repairs needed until after they bought it and said it could fall apart before it’s brought up to code.
“The problem is you got a wood building sitting on saltwater. That building sat there for 40 or 50 years before the city bought it, and it wasn’t maintained before the city bought it,” Dodd said. “It basically turned out that at some point in time as we were putting more money into the maintenance, we decided to hire an engineer to tell us what was really wrong with it.”
Due to the assessment, the restaurant had to close but the fish market portion of Crab E Bills was permitted to remain open.
“Just looking at it now makes me want to cry,” Suzy Andrews, the owner of Crab E Bills, said. “This is our life, It’s like moving out of your house that you love so much it’s heartbreaking.”
The business was a passion project she started with her late husband who was known as Crab E Bill.
“He passed away in 2019 so we decided to make him proud and keep it going and we did a damn good job of it,” Andrews. said. “If he was here now, I don’t think this would be happening. I’m going to fight to the end, I have to. This is my life.”
Andrews said since 2021 she estimates close to $1 million in losses from having to do her own repairs and loss of business.
With the extension, it allows her to keep the fish market open until the end of season.
“I need more time. I have no place to go. I’ve been looking for two years. There’s nothing for me to go to,” Andrews said.
Dodd said that it’ll depend on findings from engineers to determine if the building will be saved or demolished.
He also said that although Crab E Bills sits on the waterfront, the building wasn’t purchased with a grant dedicated to revitalizing working waterfronts.
“That’s the Fisherman’s Landing that’s beside that, all the dock structures and all that. We treat it like it’s part of the working waterfront and we’re gonna to treat it like it’s that and we’re actually applying for additional working waterfront grant money to fix this building and combine this process as it comes together,” Dodd said.
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