Thursday's start to Groomer's Seafood's second annual Lobster Mania was fairly orderly, with patrons picking up 3,000 lobsters in the morning and filling out their orders with other seafood and items from the warehouse's retail area.
Customers shop at Groomer's the day after Lobster Mania swamped the store.
Friday could not have been any more different.
The crowds started early and quickly went through the 3,000 lobsters set aside for that day. But they didn't leave. They wanted more.
So, Rick Groomer, his family and his crew made several runs to the airport to pick up newly arrived shipments.
When the trucks returned on one run, they couldn't get into the parking lot, because so many cars had crammed in, blocking their access.
By about 12:25 p.m., 10,000 pounds of lobster, including all of the lobsters that were meant for Saturday's sale, were gone. That's about 8,000 lobsters, which had been priced at $6.95 apiece, regardless of their weight.
People were still waiting in line, disappointed to learn that they wouldn't be steaming, boiling or grilling any of those tantalizing crustaceans that evening. Some stayed to get what was left over, including every last blue crab in the place.
A notice on the door let customers know there were no lobsters or blue crabs.
Groomer, who started at 4 that morning, wouldn't get out of his store until after 7 p.m. In addition to keeping things running as smoothly as possible, given the volume of shoppers, he and his staff took to social media to let people know that there would be no lobsters on Saturday. Emails went out to folks on their regular list as well as messages on Twitter and Facebook to let people know the situation, so they wouldn't show up early, especially those customers who come in from out of town to get Groomer's freshest.
The entire team, including Groomer, were back the next morning before the 9 a.m. opening to make sure that customers got what they needed. Signs were taped to the door announcing that there would be no lobster or blue crabs, and the message was repeated again inside on the specials chalkboard that hangs in back of the cash registers.
There were still a few visitors who hadn't gotten the word ahead of time, and they waited in the parking lot until one of the staff came out to break the bad news.
"We can't get any lobster from anywhere," he told people who had been sitting in their car for more than a half hour. "It's going to be a painful day."
Wild-caught, never-frozen gulf shrimp were a Saturday special.
Somber might be a more apt description of the mood inside, where the scene appeared to be business as usual, though you could hear a few customers expressing their dismay at having to change their menus for the weekend. Most opted for the other seafood Groomer's had to offer, including some frozen lobster tails as well as never-frozen, wild-caught gulf shrimp. the vast array of fresh fish arranged on ice-laden displays, the sashimi-grade cuts and other fresh shellfish, such as clams and mussels.
There Rick Groomer could be found adding already-shucked oysters to one of the ice trays.
He was still a little stunned by the Friday turnout, the second in the warehouse's relatively short retail history. They're going to try to figure out how to handle the scene better, he said. Last year, the store had taken reservations for many of the lobsters, but too many people just didn't pick up their reservations, leaving them with a lot of unpaid-for lobsters.
Last year was a banner year for lobster. This year's harvest is good but admittedly less robust, he said. Many of the lobsters are not surviving the trip from the Northeast, leaving seafood merchants like Groomer's with dead lobsters on their hands, which no one wants.
But if conditions stay good, Groomer's may try another Lobster Mania weekend next month, he said. So, stay tuned. That butter you clarified? It will keep.
No lobster, perhaps, but still plenty of fresh seafood at Groomer's.