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Editorial: Wilcox Marine’s closing is loss to community

It is with sadness that we learned Wilcox Marine Supply Inc. is closing its doors. The business enjoyed a 135-year run in Stonington. Not many local enterprises can make the same claim of longevity.

It points out the interconnectedness of many businesses and how the fate of one can adversely affect another. Such is the case with Wilcox.

Owner Jeff Wilcox can remember when there were 50 commercial fishing draggers in Stonington Harbor. Now there are only two. As the fishing industry declined due to what fishermen call overly stringent federal regulations, Wilcox saw his customer base decline markedly during his 41 years at the helm.

And it seems rather unlikely that the fishing fleet will return to its former glory and help his company’s bottom line.

Wilcox blames the government for his bad fortune and laments that he will be unable to pass along his family’s business to his son, just like his family did for him.

The company, which sells all sorts of marine supplies and hardware, as well as rigging services, was started by Wilcox’s great grandfather, George W. Wilcox, in 1879. The first location was right where the store is now, on Wilcox Road. His family’s ownership of that property dates to the 17th century.

Jeff joined the family business in 1972, two days after leaving active-duty service in the U.S. Navy.

In the early 1990s, the store moved to a bigger building on Old Stonington Road. He was there for about 10 years, but moved back to Wilcox Road in 2003 when he sold the building to help keep the business afloat.

While the company also provides service to yacht owners during four busy months in the summer, that business is not enough to carry it through the remainder of the year. And that is a reality that Jeff knows only too well.

The company is currently liquidating its inventory and expects to close its doors in early January.

Jeff has applied for Social Security and those checks will be an increase from the $9,000 salary he made last year. He says he might take an extended vacation before starting a job search.

The storefront belongs to his father’s estate and has been on the market for about five years or so, he said. A commercial building grandfathered into a residential neighborhood, the store is still waiting for a buyer, Wilcox said.

According to Jeff, “It’s not the same world.”

That’s what makes the closing all the more difficult. In a town that prides itself on its history with the sea, and is home to the Mystic Seaport, losing a business connected with fishing industry and yachting is rather tough to take.

But Wilcox is right, it is not the same world, especially the landscape — now that Wilcox Marine will no longer be a part of it. There is not much to be done except to wish Jeff well in future endeavors.

It might also be appropriate to wish the fishing fleet in Stonington Harbor “fair winds and following seas” in the years ahead. Might they survive a bit longer and maintain a tradition that is even longer than the history of Wilcox Marine.

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