Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Edward Damaso at the Courthouse Fish Market in East Cambridge in a 2021 photo. (via Yelp)

After 112 years on Cambridge Street, the Damaso family’s Courthouse Fish Market closed its doors for the last time Jan. 13 – a little over six months after the closing of the Fernandes Fish Market, a fixture for 28 years about a half-mile west in Cambridge’s Inman Square.

With this closing, the customers who came in to shop for such Portuguese treats as sardines – which Courthouse had flown in twice a week – will see a way of life gone forever.

WIth the two shops closed, “there’s really nothing left in Cambridge or Somerville,” Al Damaso said Tuesday. (The New Deal Fish Market at 622 Cambridge St. may come closest, he said, but is more Brazilian than Portuguese.) There’s an asterisk on the gloom – but more on that later.

The Courthouse closing was announced on the website in a statement from the Damaso family, who have owned the market since 1967. They bought it from the founding Travis family after emigrating from Portugal.

“We extend our heartfelt gratitude for your years of support and patronage at the fish market,” the statement said.

The closing was done only reluctantly by the family members behind the counter. “They can’t do it anymore, physically. This is a 12-hour-a-day job, six days a week,” Damaso said, describing a fruitless search for workers to help his brother Edward Damaso at Courthouse in a tight labor market. “You can’t find any help – not just good help, but any help.”

“We have tons of nieces and nephews, they didn’t want to work there,” Al Damaso said. “If my brother could have found decent help, we would have sold it to them.”

Two years of efforts to sell the seafood business got no bites, Damaso said.

Courthouse Fish Market was known for its fresh daily-delivered fish, including those sardines. In a Cambridge Community Development map of the city’s legacy businesses, it was by far the oldest in East Cambridge, and History Cambridge noted its “loyal following” in the neighborhood and Portuguese communities; the shop billed itself as having “the most reasonable prices and the finest seafood in New England.”

The Fernandes Fish Market closed June 24 at 1097 Cambridge St. because the property’s owner, Cambridge 168 LLC, said the building was in dire need of renovation and needed to be brought up to code. The building would be unsafe for tenants during this project, said the company’s Lin Xu.

That’s not the story at 498 Cambridge St., the ground-floor retail space that was the Courthouse Fish Market. The Damaso family is looking for renters, but it’s not known what the 1,219 square feet will become.

Courthouse Seafood, the restaurant next door opened by the Damasos in 1987, will remain in business – and that’s where the asterisk about the market closing comes in: Customers looking for some salmon to cook at home, olive oil or cheese or a delicious Portuguese sweet bread will be able to buy a small selection at the restaurant. “It’s not totally gone, they can still walk in the restaurant,” Damaso said.

Still, it was said to see the market close and turn away longtime customers who had become like family.

“I have customers who call me up,” Damaso said, “and ask me how I am.”

But not where they can find good sardines now?

“They ask me that too,” Damaso said.