(WBIR-Dandridge) A couple figured out that a business run out of their home allows them to live anywhere.
They chose East Tennessee for an online company location unusual for our part of the country.
The sea shells neatly stacked on shelves represent more than 400 varieties. But there's no ocean anywhere around Jefferson County.
"We always laugh that if a tornado came through here 400 years from now they're still going to find sea shells in Dandridge wondering where they came from," Frank Ferguson said.
Most of the sea shells come from the Philippines and India. But Frank Ferguson doesn't have to fly there or even walk on a beach to find the beautiful shells.
"I find all my sea shells with a phone," he explained.
He enjoys his short commute.
"It's one entire flight of stairs."
He and his wife Amy work out of their basement in Dandridge and run their own website. Frank takes photos almost every day. He emphasizes the distinctive colors and shapes of the shells.
"There is at least 350,000 known species of sea shell," he said.
The shells are like snow flakes or fingerprints; each one is different. Some of them have been altered by artist to bring out their beauty.
"This shell and this shell is exactly the same except the outer layer is removed to reveal the mother of pearl on the inside," he pointed out. "This is a dolphin carved on to one of these tapestry turbo shells."
The shells range in size from super tiny for crafts to a lot bigger for display. A huge clam lived in one that was probably over a century old.
"They call it a man eating clam but it's not actually going to eat anybody. I mean it's completely full of muscle and it's a filter feeder. If you actually swam up to it, it would close really quick. it would be scared. It's never eaten anybody," he said.
Most the shells are harvested for food. People eat the clams or snails inside and the shell is what is left over. Frank said he follows the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department rules. He's become an expert on shells since discovering this second career about a dozen years ago.
"When I was a kid I didn't think I'm going to be a sea shell seller when I grow up," he said with a laugh.
Frank and Amy were at the beach in Florida where they lived.
"We took a walk down Naples beach. We picked up some sea shells and we said I wonder if these would sell on ebay? And they did," he recalled. "This all started in Naples thus Naples Sea Shell Company."
It's moved to East Tennessee where the ocean meets the mountains.