By Steve Guntli
The pierside building at 214 Sigurdson Avenue in Blaine is dark and mostly empty now. All that remains are the front desk with its office supplies and a table full of model ships, complete with a replica of the building and the pier. Mike Dodd is perched behind the desk, but there isn’t much left to keep him busy.
“I’m only here about four hours a day,” he said. “We sold all the appliances and furniture we had. I’m just going through some files and finishing things up. There’s not a whole lot left for me to do.”
After 60 years in business, Blaine Marina, Inc. is closing for good on Saturday, May 30. Dodd, who ran the business with his brother Steve, said he’s sad to see it go, but the time has come for him to retire.
The Dodd brothers’ father, Harold “Bud” Dodd, started the business in 1955. At the time, the building housed a struggling crab processing plant, and Bud was running the era’s equivalent of a mini-mart in downtown Blaine.
“It was a gas station, but he sold hardware, clothing, even insurance,” Dodd said. “You didn’t really see much of that in those days.”
Bud refurbished the business as a salmon and crab buyer and a refueling station. By the mid-1960s, business in the harbor was booming, so much so that Bud had to bring his teenage sons on to work in the summer. By 1967, the brothers became full-time employees.
“There were days when we’d have crews here unloading 24 to 48 hours at a time,” he said. “There were maybe 80 to 100 gillnetters in this harbor. Now there are maybe 10.”
With the fishing industry exploding, Bud, employing his mini-mart experience, decided to diversify the business to keep his employees working in the offseason. Over the years, Blaine Marina, Inc. has sold furniture, appliances, groceries, real estate and other services out of its three buildings on the pier.
When Bud fell ill in the early 1990s, Mike and Steve stepped in to run the business full-time. Over the last few years, as the fishing industry died down, Blaine Marina, Inc. shifted its focus to seafood buying, furniture sales and the refueling station.
Captain Richard Sturgill has nothing but praise for Blaine Marina, Inc. and the Dodds.
“They had a really great business model,” he said. “People with low incomes could make payments on furniture or appliances, so no one ever had to go without a refrigerator or a sofa.”
Sturgill added that the Dodds have donated all of the fuel for the Plover ferry over the last 20 years.
Dodd said he and his brother have been trying to sell the buildings for about a year, without success. The Port of Bellingham, which owns the land on which Blaine Marina, Inc. is built, will take over the property.
“The port has some plans to redevelop this area over the next few years, and this type of facility isn’t in those plans,” Dodd said. “It wouldn’t really make sense for anyone to buy it if it will only be here a few more years, so we’re turning the building over to the port.”
The port and the city of Blaine have been planning a redesign project of the land along Marine Drive for nearly a decade. The Wharf District Master Plan, last updated in 2007, designates Blaine Marina, Inc.’s property as part of the Shipyard Industrial Park, which would cater to Blaine’s fishing fleet. According to the plan, the area would require several bulkhead upgrades, a revamped fueling facility and environmental remediation.
The Washington State Department of Ecology recently found potentially harmful chemicals in the ground and water near Blaine Marina, Inc., and submitted a draft of their study for public comment. If the proposed cleanup project is approved, it could take between five and eight years to complete.
Dodd isn’t sure when, if ever, anyone will take over the refueling station.
“The Port said they aren’t interested in running it, so it may never open back up,” he said. “If people need to fuel up their boats in the interim, they’ll have to go to Semiahmoo.”
The Dodd brothers are already busy planning their next moves. Steve is starting a T-shirt screen-printing business with his oldest son. As for Mike, he’s considering his options. He’s been a member of the Blaine school district board of directors for 34 years, and still has another two years left on his term. He’s also had some offers from friends to help out with their seafood buying business.
“Of course, there’s always the third option,” he said. “I could just retire for good.”