Update posted May 8: I’ve been in touch with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services today to find out more about why Counts can sell at the farmers markets without a problem but must comply with state regulations at his store. The department’s spokeswoman, Elaine Lidholm,
didn’t know offhand but said she would look into it and get back to me. said that she spoke with the director of food safety, who told her that the difference is that at a store the food is being stored for a period of time, rather than just for a day at the market. That means a retail store must properly store food at a certain temperature, among other requirements, Lindholm said.
VDACS inspects retail food stores (stores that sell food, but not prepared food – it is the Health Department’s responsibility to inspect restaurants), such as Seafood Charlie’s, to enforce Virginia food laws. “It is incumbent upon any business owner to find out which laws and regulations they need to follow,” she said.
Seafood Charlie’s, which opened last month in Salem, is closed indefinitely as the owner decides whether it is worth his time and money to comply with state regulations.
Charlie Counts had been selling fresh, local seafood at farmers markets since 2011. He decided this year to grow his business by opening a store on Fourth Street in Salem.
Things were going well and the store was regularly selling out of fish. But then the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates food wholesalers, notified Counts that he needed to label his food and install two more sinks, among other tasks, Counts said.
He wasn’t sure when I talked with him Tuesday whether he would invest the time and money to comply.
“The place might be more trouble than its worth,” Counts said. Installing more plumbing would require him to knock out a wall, and Counts said he has already put a lot of time and money into the building.
Customers won’t see Counts at farmers markets this week. He is taking the week off to figure out what to do with the building.
He said he plans to return to the markets next week, but said even that might come to an end because he is not earning enough money to make it worth his time. He opened the storefront to grow his business and his profits, he said.
“The farmers markets only have so many people that go down there,” he said. “It’s a limited audience. I thought I’d be able to expand and actually make a living doing this.”
Counts said he is exploring a few options that would allow him to continue to sell outside the farmers markets.
I’ll keep you posted on what Counts decided to do with the business.