For many Floridians, the beachfront tchotchke shop is a strange and dreadful place.
The lame gag gifts. The tacky bumper stickers. The hemp jewelry and henna tattoos. Who would buy this stuff?
The answer: a lot of people.
On Mandalay Avenue, Clearwater Beach's souvenir central, bauble shops like Wings and Surf Style are often awash in visitors from out of town. Their business is selling Florida in a bag. And business is good. On a recent sunny spring break afternoon, we ventured out to see what they had to offer. We just barely made it out alive.
Here are a few highlights from the heart of tourist town.
Strangest inscribed souvenir: Dead baby shark in glass jar, with the inscriptions, "Clearwater Beach Florida" and "SHARK" — $14.99 (Surf Style).
Most interesting: Real severed alligator head, wild or farm-bred, 2.5 inches to a foot long, $14.99 to $45 (multiple stores).
Worst toy / Least likely to survive the trip home: Porcupinefish, expanded — $12.99 (Wings).
Strangest attempt at "beachwear": "Tiger skin" men's robe, with tiger designs (not real tiger skin) — $49 (Swim & Play).
Most likely to be regifted: Shell-encrusted tissue box — $14.99 (Beach Bazaar).
Highest concentration of "Florida" symbols: Flex visor, with flamingos, oranges or flip-flops — $3.99 (Surf Style).
Most creative use of native wildlife: "Gator" back scratcher, with gator claw on a stick — $3.99 (Beach Bazaar).
Least creative use of Florida wildlife: Shot glass with "Genuine Shark's Tooth" — $8.97 (Freaky Tiki Surf Shack).
Least likely to be bought for son: Neon "beer bong" funnel, with sticker, "I Got Bonged" — $5.99 (Wings).
Least likely to be bought for daughter: Neon yellow shot glass, "Drink Till He's Cute" — $4.99 (Wings).
Best understanding of state geography: Map of Florida T-shirt, in pink, "Not Everything is Flat in Florida" — $8.50 (Surf Style).
Worst understanding of state geography: Map of Florida T-shirt, in white or gray, with dolphin jumping over city of "St. Petersburgh" — $9.99 (Wings).
Least likely to be bought by a Floridian: Bag of assorted shells, 9 pounds — $14.99 (Wings).
Most unnecessary combo pack: "Pong on the Go," a pack of 22 red plastic cups and three pingpong balls used for the "Beer Pong" drinking game, with instruction manual — $5.99 (Surf Style).
Least likely to be seen in an office setting: "Little Sipper" novelty coffee mug, with nude breast — $6.99 (Eagle Wings).
Most high-tech: Computer mouse with liquid compartment and plastic clownfish, with "Clearwater Beach" monogram, in blue, green or yellow — $22.99 (Celebrity of Clearwater).
Most dignified beach art: Horseshoe crab glass sculpture — $27.99 (Beach Bazaar).
Least dignified beach art: Sea turtle ashtray — $7.99 (Surf Style).
Contact Drew Harwell at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.