Advice from his doctor, some eight years ago, took Mercer Nicholson out of the rough and ready trucking business, and sent him fishing. In fact, while he was fishing he caught a completely new way of life, and enjoys it. He still owns his trucking ICC Authority in Des Moines, but Nicholson and his wife devote all of their time to fish in their Pacific Fish Market at 115 Kellogg. Trucking had been Nick's life. As a boy in Nevada then in Ames he fiddled around his dad's garage. No doubt many of our readers will remember Nick's dad, C.W. Nicholson, who operated a garage on 5th street. A change from the "fast" business like trucking to just plain fishing is easy to take for a while, then a man who has always been active has some adjustments to make. In his case, his mind kept active. "Why," he asked himself, "can't sea foods be shipped inland - say to Iowa - and be as good when it arrives as it is when it is caught?"
After lots of thought, a number of experiments, a few failures, then more experiments Nick decided he had the secret. The secret still known but by a few people, seems to work and work well. For instance, while we were preparing this story we examined a piece of fresh halibut - so fresh that the blood was still running - but the halibut had been caught several days ago 2,000 miles away in the Pacific ocean.
With a secret of keeping fish and sea foods fresh in transit, the Nicholsons came back to Ames to start their fish market - to give Ames people the opportunity of having fish as fresh as though they lived at the sea shore.
While your reporter was visiting with Mrs. Nicholson a customer came into the store for oysters. "Those we got last week sure were good" she said. After the customer had made her purchase and gone, Mrs. Nicholson told us that it was the large Pacific oyster she had referred to. She went on to explain that the Pacific oysters, as apart from those shipped in from the Atlantic, are cleaner - completely void of grit and shells -- and are solidly packed into the can without liquid. "The customer gets oysters rather than liquid." Incidentally, in the price for a pint can of Pacific oysters the customer pays from 14¢ to 20¢ express charges.
Speaking of transportation, the Nicholsons use Railway Express, Air Express and truck express to import their sea foods. It all depends on the type of sea foods in the order. Nick's years of experience in the trucking business has helped him in routing his shipment over the fastest, yet cheapest modes of transportation. At the present time, but with only three exceptions, all sea food to be found at the Pacific Fish Market are fresh, salted or smoked. The exceptions are frozen lobster tails, frog legs and five pound boxes of shrimp. Equipment is being added, however, to permit the stocking of a larger selection of frozen fish. "There is no way to beat fresh fish," Nick says, "but frozen fish is cheaper - and it is good, too."
The thing your reporter noticed first upon entering the sales room was the spic and span cleanliness. It didn't ever smell fishy. On back in the "cleaning room" or work shop where everything is cleaned ready for the pan, things were just as clean, and just as orderly. In fact, when we got home we asked the wife, "When are we going to have a good sea food dinner?"
The Nicholson's have learned a lot about the habits of people since they opened their store in July of 1951. They've learned a lot about shipping fish, too. For instance, they have learned that many people will go a long way to buy really fresh fish and sea foods. They have regular customers who come to their store from Boone and other nearby cities, and they have regular customers who live in Des Moines. Probably the most distant customer who buys fish from them fairly regularly lives in Osceola, some 80 miles away.
In addition to the very fine quality of sea foods always available at the Pacific Fish Market, probably one of the things housewives like most about it is the helpful suggestions Mrs. Nicholson gives on how to prepare it for the table. On the subject Mrs. Nick said, "Cooking sea foods is easy, but it also is easy to over cook and ruin otherwise perfectly good fish. I like to help our customers get the best results from their purchases." Mrs. Nicholson, a midwesterner, learned much about preparing sea foods from her mother-in-law, Mrs. C.W. Nicholson, formerly of Ames, who has operated a sea food grotto in Crescent City, California for a number of years.