Coined as the shark bite capital of the world, Daytona Beach is the home of Big Shark.

Nov. 14, 2023

Tim Pace recently unearthed a black and white photograph of his souvenir shop from 1960, when his in-laws Cecil and Juanita Stephens first bought and adorned the Daytona Beach, Florida, building where the store is located.

Then, it was called the Daytona Shell & Curio Shoppe. In the image you can see the oval facade curves out like a fishbowl toward North Atlantic Avenue, with neon-tube signage and fish shapes swimming along an underwater mural of seashells and starfish. Real palm trees peek out above the entry courtyard and a covered driveway points to parking in the back. The photo is neatly labeled in cursive script, complete with the cost of the original structure: $33,865.79.

Pace and his wife, Celia, took over the family business in 1979. They’ve remodeled and reworked the store many times over the years but have always put their best face forward to lure in beach-bound customers.

Shifting sands

“The storefront has the same shape but different decoration,” Pace says. “I think my father-in-law designed the outside to bring the front of the store to the street.”

Products at Big Shark include magnets, plush, children’s toys, beach bags and home decor.

The palm courtyard within the pillars has served as an outdoor marketplace, shaded by temporary canopies.

“In years past, we used to have huge piles of seashells,” Pace recalls. “We still sell plenty of shells, but the business has evolved.”

Now called Big Shark, the 13,000-square-foot store capitalizes on Daytona Beach’s dubious distinction as the “shark bite capital of the world.”

“We’re known for sharks in our area,” he says. “There are a lot of surfers and a lot of sharks.”

The facade now includes large, three-dimensional shark reliefs cast of fiberglass. One swims along the front side while two sharks burst out of painted ocean waves on either side. Reminiscent of the original storefront, the “Big Shark” sign is brightly lit in neon.

At ground level, the Pepto-pink entryway includes two full-sized statues irresistible to climbing kids and selfie-taking tourists: a dolphin and a manatee.

“It helps us stand out along our strip of the (State Road) A1A,” says Pace, noting that the design went through an extensive city review process. “It helps people remember where they’ve been.”

Shark sightings

While seashell holiday ornaments and home decor still have a beloved place in Big Shark, the store’s merchandise has shifted with the tides. Sharks are prominently featured on coffee mugs, keychains and apparel. Fossilized shark teeth embellish jewelry.

Big Shark has been drawing in beachgoers from Daytona Beach, Florida, since 1960 when it was owned by Cecil and Juanita Stephens. It is now owned by the couple’s daughter, Celia, and her husband, Tim Pace.

“It’s given us a theme,” Pace remarks of the shark motif.

Big Shark’s mix of souvenirs also includes dreamcatchers, beach bags, children’s toys, bodyboards and books.

Recent inventory additions include tie-dyed face masks with “Daytona Beach, Florida” imprinted in block letters.

They also sell shirts, ball caps and drink insulator sleeves printed with imagery for events that draw thousands of out-of-towners each year, like Daytona Beach Bike Week and NASCAR races at the Daytona International Speedway.

The white sands of Daytona Beach are also known as a popular spring break destination. It doesn’t hurt that Big Shark is across the street from beachfront hotels and condominiums.

Beach life

Big Shark’s prime location comes with its challenges. Florida’s salty air means the painted outdoor art needs routine upkeep, a task made more difficult by the sharks’ lofty perch.

“They’re 20 feet off the ground. I can’t just hose them off,” Pace says.

Products at Big Shark include magnets, plush, children’s toys, beach bags and home decor.

Hurricanes are a perennial threat. The glass storefront windows can be closed behind reinforced floor-to-ceiling storm shutters, while Big Shark’s sculptures were made to withstand the harsh winds, according to Pace.

“We didn’t want to find them in the parking lot,” he says.

Big Shark bills itself as Daytona’s largest gift shop. Its online presence is minimal, with a basic website, listings on Tripadvisor and Yelp, and a Facebook page with about 600 followers.

Like it did in old days, the store benefits from its busy tourism locale, an ample parking lot and a dramatic storefront design.

Pace says the venerate store enjoys many repeat customers, many of whom have been vacationing in Daytona Beach since his late in-laws owned it. “Other stores in our area are decorated, but none like ours,” he says. “We’re the ‘shark store.’”