Ann Pope, left, Phil Sena, founder and owner of Ocean Gardens, and Summer Lyman with Antique Cannon and AGA Lighthouse Beacon. CONTRIBUTED

“My initial vision was a navy store, but these two took it to another level.” Phil Sena, Founder and Owner of Ocean Gardens in Islamorada, thanks Summer Lyman and Ann Pope for their growth and success over their 10 years in business.

“We’ve been very lucky over the years,” Lyman said. “The 10 years we’ve been in business have been absolutely amazing. Neither of us would ever want to do this without the other.

“We have a great team that allows us to do what we do, which we are always looking to grow, and Phil is our fearless leader,” added Pope.

Diving initially for sea shells and biscuits at age 14, Sena came to Islamorada from Miami and stayed at The Islander on weekends. “One day I got in my boat and started diving for seashells. Then, at 18, I made it a full-time job.

Sena, a big dream entrepreneur with a “heart of gold” (per Lyman and Pope), also owns The Caribbean Resort. “Seashells built the resort,” Sena said. “I made a deal because I needed the property to bring in my boat and load the shells. I was making three cents apiece when I started. I collected them on weekends and then sold them to local shell shops. Then my mom would drive me to West Florida so I could sell to stores on that coast.

“I first met Summer at her store (Down to Earth) and paid her amazing retail prices,” Sena says humorously. “We had tea; I told him my vision and said I would like your help with it. Lyman replied, “What do you have in mind?”

“A shell store. I have collected over the years; let me show you what i got. I thought she’d be as excited as me when she replied, “We can get through this.” Maybe I went a bit heavy on the shells.

The store was already underway when they met and opened on November 21, 2011. Lyman asked Pope to be his straight partner, and the two work together perfectly.

Asked about their roles, Pope laughs and says, “Our partnership has worked well. I just make sure she does what she has to do – the merchandising. She’s the creator, and I’m behind the scenes, so she gets what needs to be done to be able to do it, like communications, follow-up, emails, restocks, etc.

“Neither of us can do what we’re doing without the other. I constantly throw ideas at her. We’re very tuned into everything. We have a clear understanding and she reads me well,” Lyman explained.

Ten years later, the assortment of stocks has been day and night since they opened. They work with countless suppliers to bring the best possible product to their customers. Merchandise initially consisted of metal art, lighthouses, many more seashells, and more touristy items such as magnets. Now the store focuses on home decor and seashells, but still has a price for everyone.

“Once Summer introduced more premium products, we started to scale,” Pope said. Since opening, they’ve also added the left side and then the right side, increasing its footprint and ensuring the store is a must-visit destination.

Sena held on to his vision of always having a store so he could express his passion and love for the ocean. They are all extremely eco-friendly and careful with who they buy from. Seashells are a by-product, so no harm is done to sea creatures. They are also attentive and up to date on the limits of specific categories of marine life.

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