Sally really does sell seashells by the seashore, or at least, Debbielou Houdek does. The owner of Blooming Shells in Sag Harbor has carved out a niche for herself with a business catering to interior designers, craft artists and stylists since the early 1980s. Living and working in a coastal community has served Houdek well as her product speaks to a specific clientele and style. Reminiscing on nearly four decades in business, she shares why this unique product has led to lasting success on the South Fork.
The store first opened in what is now the Romany Kramoris Gallery on Main Street in Sag Harbor. After working as an employee for the owners of the building from around 1982 to 1993, Houdek rented a seasonal space at the Sag Harbor Cinema after the building had been sold. “I did not wake up one day 30 plus years ago and decide that I wanted to open a shell shop,” Houdek recalls of her venture into Blooming Shells. “I was too naïve to know any better and I did not really have a plan B so I just went for it. And it was not that easy! I was in that space for 10 years and when the landlord decided to renovate I moved to the Washington Street location and have not looked back.”
When shopping for shells to sell in her store, Houdek takes into consideration whether or not customers will like them, if it matches the décor of house, their vibrancy, and price. She does admit it is hard to resist a pretty shell, and if she likes something she will likely buy it for her own enjoyment. Shells are sourced from wholesalers that she has developed strong relationships with over the years, allowing her to get the best prices for the store and her clients. Environmental and regulation changes however have impacted availability.
“Shells are getting harder and harder to get because of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) have been really stepping up to the plate and listing a lot of shells on the endangered or non-import list to save the species,” Houdek explains. “Between the waters getting warmer where they should not and the bleaching, coral and shells are taking the hit and the inventory is getting less and less, and more expensive.”
Despite some of these challenges, Blooming Shells has continued to offer a revolving inventory of unique, desirable shells. Customers can find a selection large shells like king helmet, whelk, frog, and syrinx, Mother of Pearl shells in various shapes and shades, beach glass, snail shells, and star fish. Coral selections are always changing, and may include Blue Ridge coral, Brown Stem coral, Birdsnest, and Finger coral. Newer to the lineup are crystals, a trend Houdek has noticed a tremendous spike in over the last three years.
“Just holding one in your hand can bring a sense of calm and well-being to your aura,” Houdek says, likening finding the right crystal to finding a good shoe. “You know it is yours as it feels like it was molded to your spirit/aura. Homeowners and designers are incorporating them in their home or work space.”
Different crystals present different qualities. The rose quartz is meant to open one’s heart to love, whether it be self-love or to help love someone else. To slow down cravings of any kind and help the mind focus, Houdek recommends amethyst. Place selenite on your nightstand or under your pillow if you have trouble sleeping. What feels good to the individual is deemed to be the right crystal for them.
Houdek works owners and designers who will often come into the store with ideas of what they would like to use shells for in their personal spaces. There’s a misconception that many shells need to be purchased in order to fill a space when it can really take just a few nice pieces of coral, some shells, and sea stars. Houdek shares her honest opinion of what will work best, often encouraging clients to not over spend, something they appreciate it.
As for trends, Houdek says shells will always be popular. “I personally find that shells are always on trend because of where we live and the communities that surround it,” she shares. “Right now, the trend is the minimalistic look with maybe one fabulous piece of coral on a Lucite base or a beautiful natural cream sea fan that that is about 30 inches across and looks great on a wall or in glass. As long as you have imagination and a hot glue gun, anything is possible with sea shells.”
Blooming Shells is located at 11 Washington Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-9504 or visit bloomingshells.com.