TAMPA — Not much has changed at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply since it opened 61 years ago.
“Chicken feed is still our number one seller,” said Greg Shell, the second-generation owner of the family business at 9513 N. Nebraska Ave., which sells farm, garden and pet supplies plus baby chicks and rabbits in an area that often doubles as a petting zoo. “Farms are still a main customer. And we still do a lot of pet business.”
But there has been one large shift in the business, Shell said. “I cannot maintain enough people to run the place.”
The store needs 10 fulltime employees who can provide a mix of customer service and blue-collar labor. He has seven, and only three have been with business long term.
“We have a lot of turnover,” said Shell, 50. “I train someone, and they’re not here the following week. I’ve tried to fix the problem. In the end, it is what it is. There’s no fixing it.”
So, on Nov. 19, Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply will close for good.
Until then, the store is offering deals on remaining items, plus looking for a new home for Red, the resident rooster.
“He’s a good rooster,” Shell said. “He’s looked after the place.”
To create an online memorial, Shell is asking customers to share memories on the store’s Google review page.
“I am really sad,” a reviewer identified as “Pinay Nanay” wrote. “My kids will be sad too. We go there at least every month to check the chicks and some animals like the rabbits. Thank you Shells for the memories and your wonderful staff that always there to help out!”
“Back in the days when I worked with horses, this place was my go to for supplies,” Shelley Provost wrote. “I remember spending time with a tub of baby chicks while waiting for my order of mash.”
Those relationships are what Shell said he will miss the most, but he has no regrets.
“It feels like a million pounds has been lifted off my shoulders,” he said.
And he said his father Charles Shell, who founded the store, supports the decision.
“He didn’t flinch at all,” Shell said.
According to news archives, as a high school student, Charles Shell was earning 75 cents an hour shoveling chicken manure in Lutz when he spotted the farm owner relaxing under a tree. It was then that he promised to one day go into business for himself.
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The store’s roots date back to 1951. Back then, it was called Smith’s Feed & Seed, located on the corner of Busch Boulevard and Nebraska Avenue. In 1961, for $1,500, Charles Shell purchased and renamed the store.
He used a cigar box for a cash register during its initial months.
Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply then became one of the first Purina dealers in the Tampa area and delivered feed to farms as far away as Levy County. The original location was razed when Busch Boulevard was widened. So, in 1966, the store moved a few blocks to its current spot.
Shell began working there when he was 8 years old.
“I picked up trash around the store for 25 cents a day,” he said with a laugh. “And without gloves.”
The area around the store was rural back then.
“Homes had chickens and goats,” Shell said.
Employees were recruited from high school agricultural programs. “It was a different time,” Shell said.
He took over as manager in 1993 and then owner in 2007.
Shell said he beefed up the home gardening supply selection and farmers pick up supplies now rather than ordering deliveries, but “other than changing the layouts a couple of times, not much has changed in the store because people liked the novelty of the old time feel. It was like walking into a Cracker Barrel.”
The employee turnover issue is not new, Shell said. “It’s been ongoing for the last few years.” Whenever his phone rings while home, his initial thought is that something bad happened at the store.
“It seems like everyday something breaks down,” he said. “If it’s not the forklift, it’s the electric power jack, or something else. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and realized my time is currency. People keep saying they are sorry when they hear we are closing. I thank them but, business wise, this is the right decision. I’m golden.”