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The Shell Shop Has a Name

The Shell Shop Has a Name
Rarity is valued in diamonds, cars, coins, stamps, and sculptures. A Cézanne painting is recorded at $250 million because it's rare. We refer to people that are the "real deal," exciting or valuable, because they don't fit the mold. We say they're rare. 
Being in "rare form" is very different, and that's not what we're talking about. 
Rare is a word I think of when daydreaming about the Upper East Side. Far away, concierges are ushering back home their tenants loaded with luxury shopping bags of all colors - A shopaholic novel scene. The orange bag stands out - they've been to Hermes. Any luxury brand worth anything capitalizes on rarity – they tightly control brand diffusion, and in return, it garners and boosts exclusivity. 
We've found the rarest of all rare right here in our backyard. If it was luxury – Daniel's Shells would be on 5th Avenue. Dan, the proprietor and shell enthusiast, would be the Karl Lagerfeld abuzz in his atelier draping new designs and buried under papers, press, and magazines. Scribbling down notes and reminders that would someday be screen printed on t-shirts and rebranded again. Ahem. 
Rare is what I'm describing. 
Rare in the most beautiful of ways. 
The most simple and most humble.
Beauty. Richness. Salt. 
We wanted to shoot at Daniel's Shells - it's a beautiful shell shop that, at face value, is almost stuck in time. It floods with 70s beach nostalgia, and everything takes on a sepia hue as you walk in the door. I had been there years ago, but the door was locked – a sign reading, Closed Today. So I recalled it recently and thought it may be the perfect fit for the shoot we had dreamed up – dipping into Old Florida and what that scene means to BECASA. 
So we made phone calls to set something up at Daniel's Shells. No answer. Next day, still waiting for a response. Was this place even in business? Come to find out, the phone line was down. Our shoot stylist, Sara, and I drove out to see if this wish could come true. Daniel's Shells was indeed open. Sara and I walked in on a creaky floor; no one else was shopping for shells. My merchant mind wonders, "How does this place stay open?" Two teenagers came in to ask Dan to change out a 5-dollar bill as they headed to an arcade somewhere nearby. They weren't buying anything. Daniel obliged. But I would have been scared to ask Daniel for change without buying a shell. He puts off that air of a burned-out (or burned) shopkeeper, which isn't usually too hard to find.
Dan's a character, and his quirks, backstory, and comedy make him rare. He doesn't waste time telling you about shells if you don't appreciate them. & If you don't believe me, a sign says so. A hand-written sign also explains that coral is no longer being harvested, Jesus is Lord, and several other things that I will let you go find out for yourself.
We approached the counter to ask about our shoot and told him what we wanted to do. He said, "Yes, that will be fine. Do I need to move or clean up anything?" The understatement of the century, considering the place was stacked to the ceiling with cardboard boxes, butcher paper, and newspapers. Then smack in the middle of all this is Dan's recliner. But to move or clean anything is to lose the charm. 
We said, "No, it is just fine like it is!" Actually, it was perfect like it was! So we thank him profusely and say we'll return early on Saturday. 
Saturday comes, and we show up. The door is locked. Closed Today. 
Schlepping baskets, BECASA garments, props, models, our photographer on hand – shoot. Shit. Closed? Sara says, "What if he forgot." I knocked on the heavy glass doors. A small prayer. I kept hitting, but nobody came. Shit. No phone to call. 
We all glance at each other for a long, drawn-out second, and then I look back through the glass and am relieved to see Dan coming up from the back room – he lives in the hidden-away quarters of the shell shop, which is really an old beach house. I did all I could think to do. I smiled and waved a tiny wave, one of those "please let us in" waves. He did. He has shoulder-length grey hair pointing in all directions of the compass rose. He had just woken up. 
He said, "Well, have at it – (basically) I'm going back to bed. I'll come back and check on you later." He showed up in an hour with a sleeping cap pulled over that wild hair, a camp shirt, shorts, and suspenders. I've never seen a nightcap in real life - I can recall one image from the Night Before Christmas storybook I read as a kid ... or that bear with a sleeping cap on the Sleepytime Tea box. Dan was growing on us. After a couple more check-ins, I would say we were all the best of friends.
It's not surprising that Dan's life work in shells is equally as rare as he is. He tells me about owning his store, the ups and downs, and why he cares so much about seashells -- alluding to their divinity and the connection they can be between Mother Earth and its people. Pretty powerful, really.
During the shoot, I pulled a couple of shells up to the register I wanted to buy. Dan told me their story; I'd never seen them – Melon Shells. They are large, bulbous shells with a gorgeous peach color and conch-like bodies from somewhere in the Philippines. The center of the shell fits perfectly in your grip, so even though they're pretty significant in size, it's easy to carry them about and even scoop with them. Historically, melon shells were used to bail water from boats and became necessary for island fishermen. 
We wrapped up, and I went to pay for them. The phone line was still down, so naturally no credit card machine. I ask Dan to save them for me, and I'll return this week to settle up. A cardinal sin at BECASA (ha), but, alas, he says OK. I hand him a note from our team with some cash inside as a token of thanks for his generosity. I tell him to read it later, afraid he'll decline the money.
We all shuffle from the shop and down the driveway back to the truck for outfit changes, makeup touch-ups, and a snack break. Then, just when we unfurl our Publix bags and crack open the cooler, Dan comes around the front of the shop, walking toward us with a mission. 
He's carrying those two big bailer shells - one in each hand. Sleeping cap donned.
"I want you to have these! I read your card, and I want you to have these. So let's say we're even."
That day I inherited my favorite shells and made a new friend.
xx Emily