Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Tacky or Kitschy?
I really wanted to visit the Shell Factory in North Fort Myers to see the massive sign fronting the Tamiami Trail, a giant, golden wishbone-shaped frame with huge lettering and a monumental shell dangling beneath. But I also wanted to see how an attraction that just sold shells thrived in today's tourism world, being far from the interstate and miles away from large population centers.
Shell World's answer, besides having all sorts of gaudy and garrish shells in every configuration imaginable, is to have a little bit of everything. Bumper boats, a kids play area, fish ponds, a flea market, a fast food restaurant, a seafood restaurant, putt putt golf, a nature park and petting zoo, an arcade, stuffed wildlife and a waltzing waters display every evening. Basically they've turned into a low budget theme park.
Their sign is absolutely massive and the shell hanging beneath it is large but not long for this earth, being made of paper maché and looking very flimsy. We parked near the sign and walked between the fish ponds, past the bar and seafood restaurant and through another parking lot to get to the main shell shopping area. The entrance is shelltacular with a great display of rare shells and dolphins, pirates and John Wayne guarding the bright aqua entryway. Soon you are in shell heaven or shell hell, depending on your point of view, and there is almost everything made out of shells. My wife's favorite were the little shell bouquets with tiny rubber pigs.
I was fascinated by the stuffed game collection, as I find these dead animals incredibly sad and haunting. The juxtapostion of these majestic creatures in this bizarre environment was incredibly macabre. It is not for the faint-of-heart animal lover for sure. They were spread out everywhere, on top of AC ducts, suspended from the ceiling; all sorts of species including an elephant, tigers, lions, a giraffe and a hippo. Truly one of the most weirdest displays I've ever seen.
Around the corner and there's a year round Christmas wonderland, including a photo-op with a life-sized Santa. Turn another corner and you're in a the standard tourist gift shop sellling towels, bathing suits and flip flops, only with a Subway restaurant and full service post office. Around another bend are large dinosaurs, 6 ft. shark's jaws, skeletons, etc.
I had intended to purchase a souvenir, Florida sunshine in a can, but grew impatient as the patrons ahead of me had to have numerous shell purchases individually wrapped in newspaper. I left without spending a penny, my quota for Florida wackiness temporarily maxed out. I asked my wife what the difference between tacky and kitschy was as we drove away. Her response was "kitschy is funny and makes you feel good about humanity; tacky is sad and makes you feel bad about humanity." The Shell Factory is the perfect place to test your capacity for this side of Florida.