Family-owned enterprises thrive in Falmouth

Joe Burns

A child sits cross-legged on a carpeted floor, lost a storybook world. A mother and her three children wait quietly on a dock for the boat that will bring them back to Martha's Vineyard. An elderly man spreads apart his hands to show the size of the salmon filet he needs for a favorite Scandinavian recipe.

These ordinary activities have been repeated day after day for decades, but what makes them exceptional is that they are carried out in family-owned Falmouth businesses that have survived and continue to thrive in this age of chain-store sameness, and economic uncertainty.

Jim Tiejte and Jim Limberakis, have more in common than their first name. Owners of abutting Falmouth Harbor businesses, Tiejte, co-owner of Patriot Party Boats, and Limberakis, owner of The Clam Shack, are carrying on family businesses that began nearly half-a-century ago. Tiejte and his brother Chris are co-owners of Patriot Party Boats. The business began when Tiejte's father, Bud bought a Scranton Avenue fish market from Joe Joseph back around 1960. Tiejte took over the business in 1984. "None of my brothers or sisters wanted to take it over so I did," Tiejte said.

But well before that, boats had become the main component of the family business. Tiejte said that they gave up the fish market because their location wasn't convenient to shoppers and they couldn't compete with the supermarkets. But even before his father bought the property, boats had been making runs to the Vineyard from the dock.

"My father finally bought the boat that was running off the dock," Tiejte recalls.

Early on his father built a boat of his own. The Patriot was built for fishing but in time the elder Tiejte was asked by The Boston Globe to carry its papers across to the Vineyard, leading to what has become a water shuttle service for passengers and goods to and from the Vineyard. The Patriot Too, built so that papers could be delivered in all kinds of weather is also used to bring fishing parties out for a day of bottom fishing, while the Minuteman, built in '86 as a backup for The Patriot, takes parties out for sport fishing. Jim's brother Chris pilots the 74-foot three-masted schooner Liberte that takes parties out for a sail on Vineyard Sound.

The diversity of the business and the ability of the brothers to adapt is the key to its survival, even when Mother Nature turned against it. On Aug. 19, 1991 Hurricane Bob hit Falmouth with a fury. The Falmouth Chamber of Commerce estimated $2.5 million in damage and another $2 million in lost business.

"That was the biggest threat [to our business]," Tiejte recalled. "We were just breaking even [that season] when Hurricane Bob hit. For weeks after, people were driving by to look at the damage, but not to buy clams or to go fishing."

Tiejte did the only thing that can be done when riding out a storm. He hunkered down.

"We rode it out through the winter and started anew," he said.