Floridiana: St. Lucie’s Shell Bazaar
A family tradition since 1961 offers a slice of Old Florida life in St. Lucie.
If you ask Christine Williams to tell you her favorite thing at the Shell Bazaar, it’s going to be difficult to get her to narrow in on one thing.
Maybe it’s the lighthouses or the windchimes or the candy or the coral or the necklaces or maybe just the old, ticky-tacky coasters. Perhaps, she says, at last, it’s the triton’s trumpet. Yes, she says, finally, that’s it for sure, a spiraled shell that looks like a cornucopia, tight croissant-like rolls striped beige and brown on one end and then a gaping bright white maw on the other.
“If you don’t know it, you’re just going to have to Google it,” she says. “It’s beautiful.”
Since she can remember, Williams has been surrounded by such things. Not long before she was born, her father sold a truck stop he owned in Ormond Beach and was looking for something new. A friend recommended he start a roadside shop selling seashells to tourists. Her father set it up in 1953 in the no man’s land between Fort Pierce and Stuart. A two-and-a-half-ton conch shell replica outside has beckoned tourists ever since the shop was a few years old.
Since she was born, her family lived in an apartment over the shop. Her first memory is sitting in the giant conch shell and waving to passing cars. “There weren’t many,” she recalls. The most traffic they saw came when Army trucks streamed by for hours during the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. She waved at them, too.
When she grew up, there wasn’t enough business at the shop to justify Williams’ staying on. So she went out and made a name in real estate. In ’86, her mom asked her to come back to manage the place, and after her mother died, Williams made the positionpermanent. She remodeled the apartment and moved into it in ’93, where she has been ever since.
“Oh, well, I don’t know anything different, really,” she says one quiet Friday morning at the shop. “It’s very nice walking downstairs to work, when they need me.”
Since the shop opened, Port St. Lucie, incorporated in ’61, grew up around it and is now the eighth-largest city in Florida. These days, about half the Shell Bazaar’s clientele are local, mostly looking for bagatelles to outfit their homes in a nautical theme. The rest are families during spring break, New Yorkers when the Mets are in town for spring training and summer tourists from the world over.
Nine years ago, Williams hired a 17-year-old manager to help her with the place. Dylan, now 26 and shy about having his last name printed, has been there ever since. Williams doesn’t have kids, and with her 64th birthday coming in April, she says the Shell Bazaar will go to Dylan when she’s gone. “I have unofficially adopted Dylan.” It makes her happy to think that maybe someday there will be a next generation at the Shell Bazaar. Who knows, perhaps there will be another kid waving at tourists from inside the giant conch.
10100 US-1, Port St. Lucie