Family seafood store swimming in success
By PIPER JONES CASTILLO
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- As rush-hour traffic races for the Gandy Bridge, three white geese honk at Mark Lloyd as he enters Trappman's Crab Trapp and Shrimp Shack. "Relax, guys," Lloyd tells the geese on guard. "I'm a paying customer."
Inside, nine other customers check out the blue crabs, snapper and shrimp while three employees hunker down and maintain order during the store's own traffic pileup.
"This place is getting kind of trendy, in a St. Pete-ish, fishy way," says Lloyd, a Feather Sound resident.
Call William Trappman Sr. an old salt, a fishing fool or just plain Bill, but the store's owner never expected to be called trendy. "I've just always believed in selling really fresh seafood," he says.
Each week, the Crab Trapp sells 50,000 shrimp; on weekends, 5,000 pounds of blue crab.
"When we first opened, people would stop here to buy bait on their way to the Howard Frankland and the Courtney Campbell, but now, people use the Gandy more," says Trappman, 65.
The store's success hinges not only on freshness but also on the increasing diversity of St. Petersburg, Trappman says. "For example, there's a large Asian community now looking for extremely fresh fish."
In a warm-up suit, Tish Wagner dashes in between SUVs in the parking lot. She's coming from a yoga lesson. "My aunt started buying crabs here when we moved from California a year ago," says Wagner, a native of Vietnam.
Trappman grew up in the Big Bayou area of St. Petersburg, near Lake Maggiore. He learned to bait hooks and cast nets about the same time he learned to walk.
"Fishing was the main thing for boys around here to do back then," he says.
As an adult, he joined the St. Petersburg Police Department and served as the first canine officer. He gained media attention in 1972 when his canine partner, Bruiser, rescued a 2-year-old girl who had been kidnapped near Booker Creek.
Despite his successes in law enforcement, fishing has always been "a big part of my career," he says. "As a teenager, I'd catch fish and take them to Pinellas Seafood. The owner, Leon Kenney, really is the one who taught me the business."
In 1979, when he retired from the St. Petersburg Police Department after 20 years, Trappman and his wife, Carol, started a wholesale seafood business and sold to local restaurants. In 1981, they purchased the 2-acre site that now houses the Crab Trapp with plans to use it as a base.
"We did not plan on growing this big. Our goal was to have a small business and be semi-retired," Mrs. Trappman says.
Today, the business focuses on retail sales and includes six full-time employees. The family sells not only crabs and shrimp but also other fresh seafood caught by fishermen from around the state, and bait and tackle. Last year, they had more than $1-million in sales.
Their son, Erik, serves as one of the store managers.
"This was the toughest winter we've ever had," Erik Trappman says. "It seems for the month of February, nobody was going fishing, so we didn't have a lot going on with our bait and tackle. We also had trouble finding blue crabs," he says.
"Weather is always going to be unpredictable in this business, but a big problem is how many chemicals are used in seafood now. People try to sell fish with SBS (sodium bisulfite) in it to pump up the size," William Trappman says. "It wasn't like this when I started. Our customers trust that we have the freshest, and it's tough."
In the early 1990s, the Trappmans again leaned toward retirement. They moved to Hudson, but that didn't last.
"We had worked out a deal with a man to operate the business and eventually buy it from us, but he ran the business into the ground," Trappman says. "So we came back."
In 1995, the Trappmans moved back into St. Petersburg and lived in an apartment above the seafood market.
"I remember Bill said that he wouldn't let the Trappman name go down the tubes," says Mrs. Trappman. "So we cleaned up and renovated."
In the past five years, the business has expanded from 500 to 1,500 square feet. Two cool rooms -- a refrigeration room for the seafood and a processing room where fish are prepared for display -- are separate from the customer area. Although he wouldn't disclose how much the renovations have cost, Trappman says they have spent thousands of dollars.
Next door to the Crab Trapp is the Crab Shack, a 15-year-old restaurant owned by Jerry Brave, a friend of the Trappmans.
"Trappman is a great fisherman. That's why it's his livelihood," Brave says. "But trendy? I'd say he's just an old booger who is lucky to have such a great wife."
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