A Greenport mainstay since the ’50s, Lewis Marine closes

Lewis Marine Supply is closing its doors on Friday. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Lewis Marine Supply is closing its doors on Friday. (Credit: Paul Squire)

It started as East End Supply Company in the 1950s. It became Lewis Marine in 1988.

But on Friday, it will be gone.

Lewis Marine, the Greenport Village supply company, will be closing its doors Friday at noon, sending some 26 employees out of work.

“It’s all some of us have been doing all our lives,” said general manager Bart Ruroede. “These guys are family.”

The decision to close the store was made by Lewis Marine’s parent company in Florida, Mr. Ruroede said.

“In my opinion, the economy is a major factor,” he said. “It started a long time ago and I just … don’t think we’re out of it yet.”

The back-to-back-to-back blows of Hurricane Sandy and two brutal winters the past few years have also taken their toll.

“You had three strikes there,” Mr. Ruroede, a veteran of the company for more than 35 years. “We had a good run.”

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Lewis Marine headquarters, based out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday morning.

The news has sent shockwaves through the local marine industry, where fishermen, boat yard managers and other marine suppliers say the loss of Lewis Marine will hit hard.

“It’s devastating,” said Dave Brennan, a charter boat fisherman based out of Greenport. “It’s a shame, it really is. It’s important … God, what are we gonna do?”

Mr. Brennan said the convenience of having a marine company so close that can supply the parts fishermen and boaters need quickly can’t be understated.

“All I have to do is call Lewis and 20 minutes later and I got [the part I need],” Mr. Brennan said. Now, he’ll have to order parts in from companies outside the Village and potentially outside the state, costing him fishing time and potential income.

“We’re gonna be shut down over some stupid part that I have to order from California because I can’t get it here,” he said. The longtime boat captain said he believes competition from smaller companies — coupled with the bad weather — likely led to Lewis Marine’s demise.

“It doesn’t take much in any one of our delicate industries to put someone out of business,” he said.

Lighthouse Marine Supply in Aquebogue was a competitor to Lewis Marine. But owner Clete Galasso said his company would often work with Lewis Marine to make purchases of parts together.

“I don’t think they’re replaceable,” Mr. Galasso said. “I feel terrible for all the employees there … We had a very close relationship. We’re definitely going to miss them.”

Mr. Galasso agreed that the industry still hasn’t recovered since Hurricane Sandy, which knocked Lighthouse’s business down by some 30 percent.

Many of the boat owners whose vessels were damaged in the storm used the insurance money to pay for repairs to their homes instead, Mr. Galasso said.

Fewer boaters have been combined with rising health insurance and overhead costs to make business tougher.

“I think there’s going to be a consolidation [in the industry],” Mr. Galasso said.

Michael Acebo, general manager of Brewer Yacht Yard at Greenport, said he’ll likely have to keep more items in his own inventory now that Lewis Marine will be gone.

“There’s a lot of people who relied on Lewis Marine,” he said. “For us it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to call up, place an order and pick it up.”

Yet Lewis Marine’s closing isn’t representative of the larger Greenport Village economy, Mr. Acebo said. Business is still good at his yacht yard, if not better than last year, he said.

What the end of Lewis Marine will mean is a radical shift in how local ship yards and boat owners get the parts they need. They’ll likely have to spend more money and wait longer for their parts, Mr. Acebo said.

“It does change the whole complexion of the marine industry on the North Fork,” he added.

Andrew Rowsom, the general manager at Preston’s dock in Greenport, said some company will step up to fill the void.

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” he said. “Someone’s going to fill it.”

Mr. Rowsom said Lewis Marine may not be a high-profile business, one tourists easily recognize — in fact, the business itself is located tucked off the main drag on Corwin Street — but it was still an important cog in the village’s working waterfront.

“In reality I think they’ve kind of operated behind the scenes,” Mr. Rowsom said. “I think the biggest impact to the Village is 20 people are out of a job … I think the jobs will be out there. Hopefully they land on their feet.”

Lewis Marine’s manager, Mr. Ruroede, said the newest employee at the company has been there for 3 years. Many have been there for a decade or more.

“I have a lot of good people here; they’ve been with me for a long time,” he said. “We couldn’t be as successful as we were without the employees. And I say that from the bottom of my heart.”

There may be openings at the Lewis Marine locations in Florida, but the employees would have to move.

“Most people have their lives here, their homes here,” Mr. Ruroede said.

Mr. Ruroede himself was already planning to retire, having worked for the company since 1977. The office will close Friday, but he’ll still be there, sending out the last orders and overseeing the closing of the shop.

“For me, I’ll be here until the end, until everything is moved, until everything is sold,” he said. “I’ve been running this place since 1992. I can’t very well just walk away.”

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