By Tim Callahan
Chris Conklin started life in a a double wide, living with two other families.
Growing up in Murrells Inlet, Chris loved to fish with his dad, Phil, a commercial fisherman. Chris, a Waccamaw High School graduate, was a true “creek rat,” he said, practically living there “rain or shine.”
At 26, Chris is still surrounded by fish and his father, but the double wide for him is long gone.
The manager of Seven Seas Seafood Market, Chris works with his dad to provide jobs to fishermen and fish to the community and beyond. They have nine employees in the off-season, 18 in-season, and buy fish from local fishermen, running 12 grouper and snapper fishing boats. Some weeks, he said, he might deal with 20,000 pounds of fish.
He sells all over, including to the Canadian market, Fulton, N.Y., Maryland, Charleston and more.
And, he provides as much local catch as he can to his customers.
His “three corner business” – restaurants, fish store and retail – will be adding a “fourth corner” in February, Chris said, an online seafood market.
The economy has been good to him, he said, as people are staying home and cooking fish more and eating out less. (However, Murrells Inlet restaurants are still doing great business, he said, because they provide some of the best dining in the state.)
“It’s hold on tight. Steady up. No down here,” Chris said.
In a sense, Chris is living his dad’s dream.
Phil, a Florida native, was doing his patriotic duty with the U.S. Navy in the 1970′s. While on shore leave in Charleston, he wandered up to Murrells Inlet and fell in love with the place. After his military stint was over, Phil worked aboard several of the top charter fishing boats in Miami, spending his days on the water and hobnobbing with the rich and famous, but he never forgot Murrells Inlet. Several years later, opportunity came knocking.
Phil and several of the inlet’s commercial fishing boat skippers opened a seafood co-op here, offering fresh off the boat seafood at prices everyone could afford. It was an idea that resonated with the public and within a few years, Seven Seas Seafood went from rented space in the back of a local warehouse to its current location on Highway 17 Business in Murrells Inlet.
A graduate of the Citadel, Chris did not plan to run Seven Seas. His goal was maritime logistics. He was all lined up with an internship, and planned graduate school at SUNY Maritime College. He was taking a week break after undergraduate school graduation in 2008 when the family business burned to the ground.
His fallback plan, the family business, has become his life.
His father never asked him to help after the fire, Chris said, “but it was the honorable thing to do. My dad and mom provided a way to grow up that made college and my plans possible.”
In June of 2008, he joined the business and again worked alongside his father.
He married Jean Allen of Florence recently, so his dream plans are further back on the burner.
“I have added responsibility,” Chris said, “to provide for my own family.”
But, Chris is not crying the blues.
“I have a good family, a wonderful wife, and I am doing something I enjoy and am good at.”
It is a fast paced business that can mean 12-14 hour days, especially during tourist season.
The winter months they sell a lot of oysters, clams, shell fish. Summertime, Chris said, “we sell anything, but flounder and grouper are our niche.”
Chris is a member of the South Atlantic Fisherman’s Association, South Carolina Seafood Alliance and Murrells Inlet Rotary.
Seven Seas is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Chris said.
(Seven Seas Seafood Market, 843-651-1666,www.sevenseasseafood.com)