For more than 40 years, beachgoers have flocked to the Sea Shell Shop just off the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach for Delaware-themed souvenirs, fudge and other beach trinkets.
The second-generation family business, which once had five Delaware locations, has decided to close the bright turquoise shop at 119 Rehoboth Ave. and consolidate with its last remaining Delaware store on Route 1.
Tideline Galleries, another longtime Rehoboth small business, will take over the Rehoboth Avenue location, aiming for a mid-February move-in date.
Patty Derrick has carried on her family’s legacy of the Sea Shell Shop since she was a young girl in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her parents, referred to as “Mama and Papa Seashell,” opened the original store in Florida in 1956 before expanding to Ocean City, Maryland.
At one point, the Sea Shell Shop business operated three Delaware stores — in Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany.
Derrick split her time among the beach towns before getting her degree from Florida State University, meeting her husband Thomas Derrick and settling down. The two opened their Sea Shell Shop in Delaware in 1979 when the business landscape was much different than it is today, as Derrick recalls virtually no business after Labor Day.
Motivated by a lack of consistent business, in the late 1980s Derrick and three other small business owners started the Downtown Business Association, which is now the nonprofit Rehoboth Beach Main Street organization, to help promote the year-round economic vitality of the Rehoboth area.
After that, Derrick helped start several beach town events including the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival, Sea Witch Festival and the Halloween Parade.
“As events grew, business grew,” Derrick said. “We got the outlets and that brought more and more people. But people discovered Rehoboth is a beautiful place to live, it’s only gotten better now.”
Tourism and a general appreciation for the community seemed to change things for the Derrick family.
Her son, John Derrick, has been general manager of the shop since the late 1990s, when the Derricks acquired their 10,000-plus square foot Route 1 location.
Life changed for the Derricks 12 years ago when Patty’s husband became sick and died suddenly at the age of 56.
Following the death of her husband, Derrick threw herself into her watercolor paintings, which feature Rehoboth and Delaware beach scenes. Later, she began to sell prints of her watercolors in the shop, items which sold out in just a few days.
“That was the beginning,” Derrick said. “Then I turned it into mugs, magnets, dish towels and anything else you could imagine. We sold 4,000 coasters in one year!”
The decision to move out of the Rehoboth Avenue shop happened on a total whim.
A few weeks ago, after her son and one of her managers were unable to make a shift at the store on the same day, Patty was forced to close. That’s when she noticed that Tideline Galleries, owned by Bill and Barb Hammond, had a sign on their window stating that they were planning on shutting down.
Derrick was familiar with the other family business, as they had worked across the street from each other for over three decades and would frequent each others’ storefronts.
“This is a really good opportunity to rent,” Derrick said to her sons that evening. “The Hammonds are honest, I’ve known them forever.”
A deal was struck to offer Derrick’s artwork in the Tideline Gallery, and to advertise the consolidation of the Sea Shell Shop in the new gallery window, and the rest seemed to fall into place.
Sea Shell Shop future
The Rehoboth store is set to close about Feb. 10. Leading up to that date, the shop will hold a 50% off sale on all merchandise.
Derrick has seen a lot of Rehoboth businesses come and go, and she maintains that in order to be successful you have to adapt to your surroundings.
She’s hopeful the family business will continue.
“My 11-year old grandson can sell our fudge better than anybody in the store!” Derrick said. “I don’t know what they’ll be. They could be doctors, engineers, or Seashell Shop owners. Either way, they’re very good at selling fudge.”
While her son takes over day-to-day operations at the Route 1 location, Derrick will continue working on her watercolor paintings and volunteering with her local church and community.
“I really believe in Rehoboth,” Patty said. “I believe if you have had a blessed and wonderful life like we’ve had, you should give back.”
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Contact Molly McVety at firstname.lastname@example.org.