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Flagler Beach shop survives ebb and flow of tides and tourists
Snuggled alongside State Road A1A at the northern edge of this beachside town is one of the county's hidden treasures.
The Jose Gaspar Treasure Co. may not offer hordes of gold dubloons and other pirate treasure, as suggested by its namesake, the pirate also known as Gasparilla, but visitors and locals can find treasures of a different kind.
Debbie Freeman has owned the store since she opened it with her then-husband, Jim, in 1978. Though they are no longer together, Freeman said it was his parents who provided the inspiration for the gift shop.
Visiting his parents in Little Gasparilla Island on the west coast of Florida, about 50 miles south of Sarasota, Freeman said she became very interested in shells.
"That's how we started collecting shells," she said.
Soon that interest turned into a business, with many handmade pieces by Freeman.
"I make almost all of the shellwork in here," she said. "I try to do something for everybody."
That means some of the shellwork items are geared toward golfers or fishermen -- and even soccer players.
Staying in tune with popular tastes is part of why the store has been around for so long.
"For the past few years, the pirate stuff has been big," Freeman said. In fact, while many longtime residents refer to the store as the shell shop, Freeman said the younger set now knows it as the pirate store.
Others look for fashion items, including earrings and necklaces, and have definite ideas about what is "in," Freeman said.
"Last year when all the peace symbols became big again, I had to get some," she said.
She smiled, remembering a group of teenage girls who stopped by the shop and bought several peace sign items, claiming to be new-style hippies.
While Florida-themed gifts and souvenirs are the focus of the store, Freeman said she also wants to help educate people about the area.
"I try to keep everybody informed," she said, pointing to various books she sells on topics ranging from pirates to Florida history. And, of course, shells.
"I try to keep informative books," Freeman said. "Of course I have all the shell books."
For Shari Meier and her grandson Blake Landstrom, the tourist shop was a "must-see" stop as they explored Flagler County. Originally from Illinois, Meier said she recently moved to Palm Coast and knew she had to stop at Jose Gaspar.
"The front of it is kind of intriguing, and it said 'treasure,' " Meier said. "It's exactly what I hoped for."
As she looked over items in the store, Meier pointed out several things to her grandson.
"When I think of a shop in Florida, this is it," she said. "This is exactly what I think of."
That was music to Freeman's ears, especially since the economic downturn has affected her like many other small-business owners.
"Last winter was really hard," she said. "But spring was real good. You have to learn how to deal with that."
Freeman said she believes the shop has weathered up and down economic times for the past 33 years because of her attention to customer service.
"I try to keep my prices down so people will come back," she said."
That focus on customers has meant a lot of regular, repeat business for Freeman.
"I have people who come here every year," she said. "They say their trip is not complete without going to Jose's."
Freeman said she also wants to make sure visitors want to come back to Flagler Beach and Flagler County, as well, and patronize other local businesses.
"If I don't have it, I'll either try to get it or send them where they can get the product," she said. "I think we should all try to help everybody out and try to shop locally. Everybody needs to shop locally and support local businesses."
Visit us at :http://www.visitflagler.org/