Seashells, wind chimes, novelties and souvenirs have been the stock in trade at Ellenton wholesaler Darlene’s Shells for more than three decades.
The company sells its wares around the country as decorations and art, and in some cases – like the floppy crab-shaped refrigerator magnets – just for fun.
It also operates a bustling retail outlet, The Pearl Nautilus Shell Shop, at the Red Barn Flea Market in Bradenton.
“My wife, Darlene, and I started the company about 45 years ago in Naples, and we have been in this location about 30 years,” owner George McCormick said.
At first, the business was a sideline with Darlene making crafts from shells, and George working as a liquor and wine salesman. But when Wooten’s Everglades Tours in Everglades City bought $1,200 worth of Darlene’s crafts, the couple began thinking they had found a unique business niche.
“That was the beginning. We realized we had something,” George McCormick said.
It took a few more years of business development and Darlene’s prompting before the couple took the plunge and went all in with the shell business.
“We bought shells second-hand to go along with the crafts and started cold-calling companies,” he said.
Darlene, who had the vision and the drive to create the business, died in 2016. George McCormick still deeply feels her loss.
The McCormick’s daughter, Chelsea, helps with the retail operation at the Red Barn, a 2,000-square-foot store that is packed with colorful Florida souvenirs and shells. George McCormick calls The Pearl Nautilus Shell Shop a fun experience for customers, even for those who browse the offerings and don’t buy anything.
“I love it. It’s been fun growing up here,” Chelsea McCormick said.
“We’re strictly a wholesaler, and we have sales routes that go to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, to Key West and Biloxi, Mississippi, the Florida Panhandle and the Carolinas,” George McCormick said.
Darlene’s Shells operates two tractor-trailers outfitted as rolling showrooms and warehouses that regularly visit and sell to their retail clients.
“We sell, deliver and collect at the same time from the trucks,” he said.
The company buys its shells from suppliers in the United States as well as the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, China, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Haiti and the Bahamas.
“All of our shells are byproducts and not endangered anywhere. The meat in the shells is cooked and used as food around the world,” George McCormick said.
Once shipments arrive at Darlene’s, the staff prepares them for sale by cleaning, bleaching, grinding and polishing as necessary.
William Johnson serves as general manager and often represents the company at trade shows.
“I think it’s grand. I’m really into the ocean. It’s a lot of fun,” Johnson said.
Retail prices for products range from 50 cents to $50.
Among the company’s best sellers are the floppy crab-shaped refrigerator magnets.
“We sell 20,000 of those a year,” George McCormick said.
For information about The Pearl Nautilus Shell Shop and Darlene’s Shells, visit darlenesshells.com.