Green Turtle Shell & Gift City is a visitor’s feel-good emporium
By John Morton
How could employees at a gift store in a tourist town possibly enjoy taking inventory? Especially when that inventory hovers around 250,000 pieces, ranging from 39 cents to $800, and requires a hand count. That’s right, no scanners, no clickers, and certainly no guessing.
Oh, and it can take up to two weeks to complete. Each and every month.
But that’s business as usual at Green Turtle Shell & Gift City, located at 6525 Midnight Pass Road in Southbridge Mall.
“I can never put a finger on it,” manager Patty Puma said of why her 11 employees enjoy the process. “And we are even emptying baskets of little things when we add it all up. Most people would run for the hills.
“We’ll even get up on a 12-foot ladder when we do it, including me. I don’t mind. It’s fun.”
It’s an attention to detail that fits the store’s mantra – “If you can’t find it here, you can’t find it anywhere,” said Puma of what she calls her “astronomical” array of offerings in the 4,000-square-foot store.
“We’ll even order something that a customer requests,” added Puma, who recently ordered a certain type of swimming goggles for someone. “I’ll write down the customer’s name and phone number and then hunt it down, whether it’s from one of our other stores or through a sales rep.
“Then, I give the person a call when it comes in. They are often blown away.”
Shells, gifts, T-shirts, beach cover-up dresses, bathing suits, toys, hats, jewelry, home decor, beach supplies, candy. That’s just a few of the categories represented at the store, now in its 27th year on Siesta Key.
A dedicated, seasoned group of employees might explain the commitment to all things … well, everything.
“They are the nicest people I’ve ever worked with,” said Puma, who first started with the company in 2016 and became the Siesta Key manager in 2019. “It took a few years to get this group. They know what they’re doing and don’t need to be told. I took a vacation in December and I didn’t worry about this store once. Not many managers can say that.”
A laid-back managerial approach helps as well. That is key during those inventory endeavors.
“Everyone is older than 50,” Puma said. “I don’t expect them to sprint or run marathons. I don’t push them – there’s no pressure and they operate with their own timing.”
And as a result, friendliness is in the air.
“We have visitors every year who remember the names of our employees and ask about them,” Puma said. “Many of our customers came here as kids and are now bringing their kids.
“We play 70s and 80s music and a person can barely get in the door before we say hello. We get people who browse here as long as an hour and a half. They feel comfortable. They feel welcome.
“The store is well-lit, the aisles are wide, and it’s wheelchair accessible. It’s a store for everyone.”
That employee dedication was reinforced when owners Susan and Nathan Faria paid the workers during a five-week span during the pandemic when the store was closed.
“They all came back,” Puma said of the employees. “The dedication here starts from the top.”
Susan Faria inherited the business from her father, the late Ken Agerskov. According to Puma, he created 45 stores up and down Florida’s west coast that featured only shells. He would close most of them, and now five are left — beyond Siesta Key, three are on Anna Maria Island and one is in St. Pete.
All have the same philosophy:
“I was told when I was hired that I should put an emphasis on making a good living for my family but never gouge the customer,” Puma said. “The owners said there are families that save all year to take a vacation here. They should be able to take home a souvenir.”
Finally, is the big pirate out front for sale?
“I call him Jack. He’s been here since Day 1, I believe,” Puma said. “At one point he had a price but now I understand he can’t be replaced. And, people like to take pictures with him. So, he’s here to stay. We’re not selling him.”