Baldwin County Classics: Souvenir City celebrates 67 years of family-oriented success

Posted 11/16/23

GULF SHORES — Souvenir City attributes its lasting success not only to unwavering customer and community support since 1965, but also to a distinctive family-oriented approach.

In 1959, …

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Baldwin County Classics: Souvenir City celebrates 67 years of family-oriented success


GULF SHORES — Souvenir City attributes its lasting success not only to unwavering customer and community support since 1965, but also to a distinctive family-oriented approach.

In 1959, Clyde Weir, owner of Souvenir City, took charge of the gift shop started by his mother, Josie, in her former restaurant location.

Inspired by a small shop named Souvenir City during his honeymoon in Miami Beach, Weir renamed his store and began selling affordable items. In 1979, he acquired his mother's stake in the store and expanded his ownership to the entire block by buying surrounding land.

Shark on land

While traveling down Gulf Shores Parkway, a 70-foot blue shark can be easily spotted outside of the store.

The idea of placing a shark outside of the store came to Weir while attending a gift show in Gatlinburg and seeing a shark at a miniature golf course. The shark, initially 50 feet long, survived a fire that destroyed the store on Feb. 4, 1996. When the store was rebuilt, the concrete shark grew to 70 feet, becoming a prominent photo spot at the beach.

General Manager Tina Royster noted that this shark has been a staple for the business, bringing in people of all ages.

"You know, they call us the 'shark store,'" Royster said. "All throughout the store we have different sharks and a couple of areas to where the kids can get in and even adults can get their picture taken."

Serving all ages

Souvenir City not only aims to serve tourists but also wants to serve the community and be a one-stop-shop for those who enter.

"When we go and order the items for the store, we try to think about all the people that come into the store," Royster said. "I tell our workers we have customers from 8 to 80. It gives everybody something to look for."

From airbrush t-shirts, home décor, and toys to homemade fudge, Gulf Shores merchandise and even hermit crabs, this souvenir shop wants to ensure that every visitor enjoys their time in the store.

Homemade fudge

"Our fudge is homemade. It is not shipped in," said the general manager. "We cut it and sell it. We have our own cooking facility that we make the fudge in."

Royster added that Souvenir City creates different fudge for each season but keeps the top selling fudge out year-round.

Some of the featured flavors include cookies and cream, peanut butter, orange sickle and chocolate walnut.

Colorful critters

The Gulf Shores souvenir shop also features land hermit crabs. These creatures can be found crawling under a heat lamp, some with unique, hand-painted shells, giving visitors who purchase these animals a chance to personalize the crabs that best fits their style.

The hand-painted shells that house these creatures include an array of designs such as emojis, sport balls, Disney characters and more.

"We go through anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 in the summer and 10,00 to 15,000 a season, which runs from March 1 until mid-October," said day manager Rhonda Longshore.

Longshore, who has worked at Souvenir City for eight years, noted that these crabs are known to be social.

"They are very social critters," she said. "They are like we are, they do better with a buddy and live longer with a buddy."

These land hermit crabs can eat human food, if they do not have a large amount of salt or spicy seasoning.

"The best things for them are fresh fruits and veggies, dry cereal like Rice Krispies, Cheerios, dry oatmeal," Longshore said. "They love apples and grapes, and they love corn on the cob."

The importance of family

According to the general manager, the key to their longevity lies in being more than just a business; they are a local, tight-knit family.

"We are locals," Royster said. "We truly appreciate our employees and our employees recognize that we do appreciate them and they are not just a number."

Royster explained that employees who previously worked at Souvenir City when they were in high school enjoy coming back to help around, especially when they are home from college.

"I had a girl who used to work here call me earlier this year and say, 'Hey Ms. Tina, can I come back?' she said. "Now she works a full-time job in the daytime, but when she gets off, she comes and works at night."

Souvenir City does not call those who work for them "employees," they prefer to use the term "family."

The general manager noted that everyone is hands on, no matter their position and ensures that everything from unloading trucks to scrubbing toilets is complete.

"That is something that brings us together," she said. "We become a family here and we work together."

Renee Carswell, who started as a cashier 12 years ago and is now a manager, echoed Royster's sentiments.

"They are always there to support you," she said. "They are very much for family. Nowadays, in a lot of places, if you have children, they do not accommodate a lot of things. In family emergencies, schooling events, programs, things like that, they work with you on that."

The manager noted that visitors will notice the family-oriented atmosphere when they walk in.

"We laugh, we play, we get along. You also do your job and get them checked out, but you keep them entertained," she said. "It is, you know, a happy atmosphere."