Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

He Sells Seashells: From Paxtang, you can “hear” the ocean.

People who enter Rob Burton’s small shop encounter items that are more likely to be spotted at the shore than in a converted two-car garage in Paxtang.

Shelves and tables are topped with lobster claws, hammerhead oyster shells, ghost crabs, horseshoe crabs, shark jaws with teeth, starfish, large conch shells and dozens of varieties of small seashells. Contributing to the beach theme are blue walls, portions of old telephone poles wrapped with rope to resemble piers, fishing rods hanging on a wall and a kayak suspended from the ceiling.

“When people come here, they look around in awe,” Burton said. “It’s overwhelming. It’s a lot to take in. They’re never going to forget it.”

The shop has been five years in the making for Burton, 47, and his three children, ages 13, 16 and 18. Currently hidden in an alley out of street view, the business will expand into the lower floor of the adjacent, 100-year old house, where it will have a storefront facing Derry Street. Following extensive renovations this summer, Burton expects the expanded shop to open to the public in September.

“My target market is interior decorators and beach-lovers,” he said, adding that, “everyone loves seashells.”

Burton buys some merchandise from wholesalers and collects the rest during trips to East Coast beaches, where he and his children gather shells and other marine life that has washed up on shore.

“How many parents walk past and say ‘Don´t touch that?’” he said. “And we stop and pick it up. We all have backpacks on, and we’re saying, ‘This is cool, and that’s cool.’ Mother nature has already done a lot of the work. We clean it up, dry it out and put a clear coat on it.”

His children have filled dozens of decorative glasses with shells and sand, which are for sale in his shop.

Because Burton owns the building, he doesn’t have to pay rent, which, he said, allows him to keep prices reasonable. Shells start at 10 cents apiece, and costlier items carry price tags in the $30 range.

Former marine life that stands out for its unique appearance includes a puffer fish and the egg casing from a whelk, a kind of sea snail. Some people love the prehistoric-looking, deep-water sea robin, which others could consider ugly, Burton said.

“It´s in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “There’s no rhyme or reason.”

One local man who was wowed by the shop requested Burton’s business card. Months later, he returned with his interior decorator and purchased items for his beach house in Delaware.

Burton can also take requests from customers. One woman from Wrightsville who discovered his shop on Craigslist wanted a specific item to add to her collection.

“She saw the lobster claw and tail, and she said she would love an entire lobster,” he said. “I asked her to allow a month for turnaround. She saw it and fell in love with it.”

Another customer said he couldn’t display fragile items on tables because of his pet dog. That gave Burton the idea to sell wall-mounted items.

Although the shop’s name isn’t official yet, Burton is leaning toward “Harrisburg Framing and Sea Gallery.”

Burton provides custom framing with help from his 16-year-old daughter, Makayla, who attends Capital Area School for the Arts Charter School. She paints the frames according to people’s preferences. For eco-conscious customers, he plans to offer an organic line of stains for framing, including coffee, walnuts and tea.

Burton also restores pool tables and antique furniture. An art deco Victor pool table from the 1920s or 1930s serves as a display table for sea creatures. He has restored pool tables that date as far back as the 1860s.

“During World War II, they started using plywood and particle board,” he said. “The old oak ones will outlast us.”

Burton is in the process of covering one pool table with sand and shells to give it a beachy look. He also plans to leave a section of his shop for Makayla to display her photography.

“I’ve preached to my kids to take the path less traveled,” he said. “Be yourself. Be unique, and you don’t know what you can become.”

The shop is located at the rear of 3428 Derry St., Harrisburg (Paxtang), and is currently open by appointment only. Burton can be reached on his cellphone, 717-574-3551.

Author: Kathryn Walson

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