The Strangest Gift Shop In The World

I’ve been to 133 different cities in 6 different countries on 3 different continents. I’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve seen Hampton Court Palace. I’ve seen Leopoldskron Castle. I’ve seen the Malecón. But none of this could prepare me for what I saw at the Gay Dolphin!

The Gay Dolphin
(photo via tripadvisor.com)

I recently went to Myrtle Beach for the first time, and like a lot of resort towns, the city has a ton of gift shops selling key chains, shot glasses, snow globes, airbrushed license plates, tacky t-shirts, and other assorted knickknacks and trinkets with the city’s name on them… and, in the case of Myrtle Beach, Confederate flags, too.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I bought a Steelers koozie, a Steelers beach towel (only $9.99 with coupon!) and a $7.99 Myrtle Beach t-shirt from a shop called “Bargain Beachwear” (which boasts 13 locations, 12 of which are on the same stretch of Highway 17).

But as the trip went on, there were more and more calls from my crowd to visit the “Gay Dolphin”. The Gay Dolphin is either “The Nation’s Largest Gift Shop”, “The East Coast’s Largest Gift Shop” or “Myrtle Beach’s Largest Gift Shop”, depending on which billboard you see. But any way you look at it… it’s just… something.

We were staying in Cherry Grove in North Myrtle, so it was a 35-40 minute drive to the Gay Dolphin. That alone would make me cranky, but it was raining, and Lisa and I were in one car, following a car with our fellow vacationers. After being in the car for what seemed like hours, I blurted out: “this damn gift shop had better be worth it!’

And oh, how it was… but not for the reasons you might expect.

You see, the Gay Dolphin has typical tourist “gak” like Myrtle Beach t-shirts, bottle openers and kitchen magnets. But what the Gay Dolphin truly specializes in is collectibles. Miles and miles and miles of collectibles. The kind of junk your grandmother collects. Shelf after shelf after shelf after shelf of dusty and unwanted clown figurines, firefighter figurines, “lone wolf” figurines, American Indian figurines, Precious Moments figurines, and knockoff Precious Moments figurines. There were figurines of Winston Churchill with a bulldog. There were  figurines of Winston Churchill as a bulldog. They have figurines that are clearly Martin Luther King, Jr., and figurines that are supposed to be Martin Luther King, Jr. , but which actually look like Steve Harvey. There had lighthouse figurines in various sizes from “thimble” to “almost life-size”. Really, Gay Dolphin has any kind of figurine you can imagine.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. They have not one, but two types of Civil War chess sets available for purchase! And if that’s too classy for you, how about a Jack Daniel’s chess set? They had two in stock when we arrived. The shop also carries collector’s spoons, collector’s bells, post cards and more. And not only are the spoons and such from all over, much of it is from the 50s or 60s, too! Want a Delaware spoon from 1962? They have 25 in stock! Looking for a Connecticut bell from 1957? They have those too! I was almost tempted to buy a Myrtle Beach bumper sticker that had to have been from the late 60s, judging from the design and printing on it. And they had a whole table full of them!

But wait! There’s more! They also have a variety of foods of dubious freshness from all over the United States as well! Looking for a package of 10 year-old “souvenir tea” from Alaska? How about 5 year-old candy bars from Jackson Hole, Wyoming? Yes, the Gay Dolphin can hook you up there, too! In fact, I saw a packet of “dip mix” that was once a dry powder you added sour cream to, but time and humidity had made it into something that resembled a grainy mustard.

But wait! There’s still more! I was looking for the “incense section” (which, although prominently displayed on a sign, turned out to be a single box with 8 or 9 packets of 5 year-old AC\DC-branded incense), when I accidentally stumbled across the Gay Dolphin’s “sports” section. There I found an Atlanta Falcons window cling… with their 1966 – 1989 era logo on it (the brittleness of and the stains on the shrinkwrap lead me to believe that it was an actual 1989 vintage sticker). I also saw an Atlanta Braves “Nacho Gift Pack”, which contained one jar each of salsa and nacho cheese, along with a bottle of hot sauce. The “nacho cheese” was a very unappetizing brown color, and the salsa was a couple of shades darker than I would have liked… this is probably due to the fact that the items were well past their 08/18/08 expiration date. They also had a Clemson Tigers gift pack; it looked a bit fresher.

Lest you think I’m making all this up, I have a couple of photos to prove it! Here I am, bewildered by the Gay Dolphin’s vast array of dream catchers:

(Click to embiggen)
(Click to embiggen)

And here’s Scott and Liz, holding up a beautiful decorative pillow (Scott’s expression is priceless!):

(click to embiggen)
(click to embiggen)

I just don’t know what to say about the Gay Dolphin. Hell, I didn’t even mention their vast selection of mood and diamonique rings (you could empty their entire jewelry case for less than $100, I swear). I haven’t even mentioned the obnoxious, 80s-style earrings I held up to my ear and walked up to Lisa singing “The Warrior” with. When I was there, I told Scott that it was a “grandma gift shop”, and that’s accurate. But it might be even more accurate to say that Gay Dolphin is a “grandma gift shop, provided your grandmother is a white, Southern version of Fred Sanford”. Looking at the thousands of lighthouse figurines the store had for sale, Scott wondered if the owners “stock up” by waiting until a hurricane comes, then plundering the abandoned beach condos and cottages.

One of the funniest things at the Gay Dolphin happened to Lisa, though. Given the long drive (see above), she needed to use the restroom. She went down some stairs and saw a man sitting behind a cash register, so after she went to to pee, she walked past him and asked how he was doing. The man was older, wearing a pink t-shirt, and seemed desperately unhappy to be working in a store where 95% of the customers come in to make fun of the merchandise. He was also smoking a cigarette there at the register, which was probably a bad idea (not because of a health code violation or anti-smoking law, but because he was surrounded on all sides by ancient, highly-flammable nicknacks). When Lisa asked how he was doing, he replied “I’m bored as hell”. Way to sell your store, dude!

And oh yes, we actually bought stuff there, too! They had a tiny Tiki section, and I found a ceramic Tiki bank for only $2.99. Lisa, on the other hand, went a little nuts, buying purse, a lighthouse votive holder, a couple of tacky frog figurines, and a couple of ashtrays that said “Dern tooten’ I’m a rebel!” with a Confederate flag on it. And for $1.47 each, how could you not buy the ashtrays, really?

Of Lisa’s purchases, the most amusing was the votive holder. It has “Gay Dolphin” written across the front of it in that cheesy script that’s so popular in the American Midwest. The store had several that lacked the Gay Dolphin moniker on it, and Liz (bless her heart!) earnestly asked Lisa if she really wanted one with the script (I guess she was thinking that Lisa didn’t see the non-branded ones). Lisa was like “hell yeah I want the one with Gay Dolphin on it!”

More about the Gay Dolphin (including more pictures) later.

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