It’s hard to keep a secret from the Larsen family, especially if that secret has anything to do with Menemsha harbor. But early Monday the family was pleasantly surprised by the flash mob celebration of the 50th anniversary of Larsen’s Fish Market opening its doors.

Betsy and Kristine Larsen were singled out for top honors. — Albeert O. Fischer 3rd

At 7 a.m., fish market owner Betsy Larsen and her sister Kristine had already sorted through a few hundred pounds of fish when a community parade of fishermen and fish-buyers flooded the Menemsha harbor. Led by the band Missis Biskis, the entire parade sang backup vocals to You Are My Sunshine as they marched from the beach toward the fish market.

“I really was surprised,” Betsy said. “I just couldn’t believe that anyone remembered.”

Fifty years ago was the Monday following Woodstock music festival, though Betsy said that wasn’t on any of their minds as Kristine's daughter, Kimberly, was due any day; and their father, Louis, had just decided to transition from operating a fleet of commercial fishing boats to running a commercial fish market.

Like many commercial fishermen, Louis and his brothers had to constantly adapt to an industry that was always changing. They had built a national reputation for swordfishing, lobstering when there was a moratorium on swordfish, and trawling in the off seasons. As legend has it, Louis had trouble finding a distributor for his lobster and took to selling his haul straight from the boat off Dutcher Dock. A few years later, he decided to build his own fish market and forged the first competition against the Poole family, who once had exclusive control of the Menemsha fish-selling business.

“My father had a big heart,” Betsy said. “His biggest thing in opening the fish market was to treat the fishermen well after they had been out all day, tired . . . and to sell the best fish.”

Louis Larsen came with a lobster of course. — Albert O. Fischer 3rd

Just as the Larsens of Louis’s generation gained a reputation as skilled fishermen, the Larsens of Betsy’s generation have gained an equally strong reputation as both fair and competitive wholesalers and retailers on the Island. The family tree today sprawls from the Net Result in Vineyard Haven to Edgartown Seafood and back up to the two markets off the Menemsha harbor.

“I was only nine when my dad first bought the store and back then I was probably more in the way than anything,” Betsy recalled. “But I really started working when I was 14 and running the place when I was 19.”

Over the past 50 years, Betsy and Kristine have developed strong bonds with the fishermen who sell them fish and the customers who buy it. And those connections were evident in the air of appreciation that surrounded the parade.

Richard and Carol Gross have been buying their fish from Larsen’s each summer since the market opened.

“They don’t just sell us fish,” Mr. Gross said. “They’re our friends.”

Richard Hamermesh, a professor of business at Harvard University and regular of Larsen’s for 41 years, spoke on his experience in the business world.

More than just a fish market — an institution. — Albert O. Fischer 3rd

“Their relationship with their customers is built on friendship and trust,” he said. “And that kind of customer service goes a long way.”

Perhaps the most appreciative members of the parade were those who have had the experience of working at the fish market. Zach Iscol said that his eight years as a fishmonger, from 12 to 20, were formative in his development as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I’ve never met a drill sergeant tougher than Betsy,” he said. “She led by example, took care of her people and did it every day.”

But stonemason and poet John Maloney had the final word on the celebration. Reading from a poem he wrote entitled Ode to Larsen’s, he recited in part:

It’s part meeting house, part free concert passes, Halibut steaks for the huddled masses.

As the light began to cut through the morning fog and bottles of champagne were left empty on the dock, the parade began to trickle out into Basin Road. But for Betsy, it was back to work as she ducked under the threshold of the fish market’s back door. Just another day in the continuation of her family’s long and proud history on the Menemsha harbor.

Ode to Larsen’s

For Betsy

You might ask, what goes with white wine and beers,
Well, Larsen’s has had the answer for fifty years.

For actors and crickers, moms and mobsters,
Once harpooned swordfish and chicken lobsters.

Hose down the floor and dump on the ice,
We have hungry guests and just tabouli and rice.

You bodysurfed all day, your arms went limp.
They’ll suggest lemon sole and cocktail shrimp.

Your every desire inside a chilled glass case.
As you drift outside, casting for a parking space.

It’s part Meeting House, part free concert passes,
Halibut steaks for the huddled masses.

It’s our victory lap, our Tour de Menemsha —
For revival, deliverance, sustenance, redemsha.

And there is Betsy, all smiles in white boots,
Making us feel like we’ve all been in cahoots.

We marvel at her warmth and devotion.
Overseeing, cutting salmon in all that commotion.

For willing kids, a summer job they could crack,
Where they’re measured, weighed, cut out, or thrown back:

Then end up wrapping cod in treated paper,
Hoping they’ll see Denzel or Don Draper.

But they earn their grade taking military orders:
They become shuck privates in a town without borders.

The Bluefin tuna red, the little galley pristine,
A dynamic duo of Karsten and Kristine.

And Betsy never falters, or swims away —
We’re hooked, right through Labor Day.

Larsen’s! 50 years: End the War, No Nukes, Free Tibet —
And with every dinner, they include a sunset.

— John Maloney