When she was a child, Anne Joffe loved spending time collecting shells on the beach where her grandmother lived, but she—nor her grandmother—could never have imagined that her childhood interest in shells would one day lead to a successful business.
Born and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, Anne attended Mt. Ida College, a private girls college located in Newton, Massachusetts, where she earned a degree in microbiology. After graduating, she worked as a microbiologist for the Massachusetts Public Health Department. According to Anne, that was back when couples had to take a Wassermann test for syphilis before they could get married. She ran the Wassermann Clinic and did all the lab testing. “If a sample came back positive, I had to ring their doorbell and ask who they’d been with,” she laughed. “Of course, my big dream was to come up with a cure for cancer.”
After meeting and marrying a young man who was a student at the University of Maine, Anne began working for the State of Maine where she ran a lab that did testing for salmonella and other potentially harmful germs found in raw cows’ milk. “The University of Maine had its own milk department and I used to go out in the barn with the cows and get the samples of milk myself,” she recalled.
Anne’s career as a microbiologist ended when she, her husband and their three children moved to Louisville, Kentucky. Anne noted that after her husband graduated from college, they moved around a bit until he got a job heading up the new Ford car factory in Louisville. Shortly after the move, the couple divorced. “I had filed for divorce a couple of times,” Anne commented. “But they used to have laws where you had to establish residency before you could finalize a divorce.”
After her divorce was finalized, she met David Joffe, a divorced father of two, at a public swimming pool. “It was our children who introduced us,” Anne recalled. “I never do anything normal,” she laughed. “My son once said to me ‘Mom, why can’t you be normal like other mothers?’” As it turned out, marrying David Joffe was a fairly normal thing to do. They have been married for 55 years and counting.
The newlyweds bought a house out in the country to give their five children plenty of space, but Anne found herself missing the beach, so, in 1973, they planned a two-week vacation on Sanibel. “I fell in love with Sanibel and before I left, I bought a house,” she said. The story of how she found the house is a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time.
As Anne explained, she was sitting on the beach when a man with a cute little dog came by. She started petting the dog, and the man said, “You must be very good with dogs. Lady would never just walk up to somebody and let them pet her.” Anne assured him that she liked dogs and had one of her own. As it turned out the man and his wife were moving to New Zealand and were looking for someone to take the dog. He invited her to their house for a drink and by the time she left, she had taken the dog and bought their house.
Since she had spent most of her Sanibel vacation on the beach, Anne returned to Louisville with tons of shells. She started making little necklaces and giving them to the friends she played bridge with. Eventually, her brother, who had moved to Louisville and opened a plant store, suggested she put some of her shells in with the plants he was displaying in a booth at a home show. “I had lots of little round clam shells, and I wrote ‘She sells sea shells’ in them, along with my phone number,” Anne revealed. “That was my calling card and because of that, I got a call from a wealthy woman named Mrs. Whitney. She asked if I could make her a large shell mirror. I did and that led to more orders from Mrs. Whitney’s wealthy friends.”
David suggested she open a store in an empty space in the building where he had his office, and that’s where She Sells Sea Shells was officially born. “I even brought in sand and made a beach in the store,” Anne said. “It got lots of publicity. About 10 months later, I told David I didn’t want to live in Louisville anymore. I wanted to live on Sanibel.” Since David’s job primarily involved traveling, it didn’t matter where they lived so they moved to Sanibel, and the rest is history.
After the move to Sanibel, Anne began making belts with shells for Bloomingdales. She eventually started selling them to shops on Sanibel before deciding she should open her own store. A plant store in the Tahitian Gardens Shopping Mall on Periwinkle was going out of business and she was able to take over their lease. She Sells Sea Shells had found a new home in Florida.
Sadly, like most of the businesses on Sanibel, She Sells Sea Shells is currently closed while Anne and David, with the assistance of their children, work to clean up the damage done by Hurricane Ian. Fortunately, there was no structural damage to the building, but much of their inventory was damaged or lost.
“Before the storm hit, we had moved most of our merchandise off the island to our warehouse, but that was flooded too,” Anne reported. “In addition, the entire ground floor of our house was flooded, and we didn’t have electricity for two months. I had a first-class shell collection, which had just been appraised, because I was planning to donate it to museums. All the data slips were flooded, so, basically, it’s worthless.” Ann and David don’t expect to reopen the store before late July or August, but when they do, She Sells Sea Shells will be celebrating its 48th anniversary.
The decision to move to Cypress Cove was an easy one for the Joffes. Anne’s mother, Ruth Guiness, was a resident here for 5½ years, and Anne was already well known by management and many residents. “I spent a lot of time here with my mother and I even taught some classes on shell crafting,” she recalled. On November 22, 2022, they officially moved to their home on the third floor, which, by chance, is just around the corner from where her mother had lived.
Anne and David’s home is literally a work of art. Every inch of every wall in every room is covered with paintings and other mementos from their extensive world travels, and one of the bathrooms is devoted to Anne’s collection of mermaids and features a mermaid sitting in the bathtub. “I’m a mermaid person,” she explained. According to Anne, one of the workmen told her he’d been in every apartment in the place and had never seen anything like it.
“It took David five months to hang everything. Some of the pictures were destroyed in hurricane flooding, but we still have at least as many more pictures as there are on the walls now,” Anne laughed. “Maybe this article should be about how much stuff you can stuff into a two-bedroom apartment.”