Feb. 22, 2023

Precautions taken after a 1995 storm helps save warehouse inventory at the Morro Bay store.

Heavy rains and flooding have had a major impact on many residents and businesses in California in early 2023. Luckily, The Shell Shop Inc. was no stranger to flooding. Back in 1995, the store’s warehouse took on 29 inches of flood waters. As a result, the merchandise was moved to shelving 31 inches off the ground to avoid a repeat disaster. Warehouse space was sacrificed, but CEO David Thomas said that the move all those years ago saved the inventory when 28.5 inches of water again flooded the 4,000-square-foot Quonset hut structure on Jan. 9.

The Morro Bay retail store was undamaged in the storm, which sent a 2-to-3-foot wave of water down the seaside city’s Main Street and cut power. The Shell Shop’s warehouse, which dates to WWII and has a concrete floor, is one block away.

Footprints in the mud at The Shell Shop Inc.’s, warehouse in Morro Bay, California. The mud was left behind when the warehouse was flooded with 28.5 inches of water Jan. 9.

The Shell Shop has been owned and operated by the Thomas family since 1955, starting off selling the shells that were the natural byproduct of the area’s commercial fishing industry. The San Luis Obispo County, California, store now imports its merchandise from 20 different countries, including India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Mexico and other countries around the world, Thomas said.

During the storm, a woman came into the retail store saying she couldn’t get back to her house because of the main street flooding. “We are one block off of Main Street, so we knew we were flooded,” Thomas said of the warehouse.

“According to some people who were in the flood when it was happening, and based on what happened inside the warehouse, the water was really rushing powerfully! We had some pallets get pushed around inside the warehouse with such force that they knocked over some boxes and some other things we had on the floor, like our dolly,” Thomas said.

“We are so fortunate our planning for this flood was in place keeping things raised off the floor. As it is we suffered very little actual damage to merchandise but it sure has been a mess and a lot of work cleaning up. And another storm is arriving [during the week of February 20] — it has been 28 years since the last flood here, but it could happen again at any time!” he said.

Thomas said 90 percent of the two-to-four inches of adobe mud left behind in the warehouse, which is slick and gooey when it is wet and concrete-like when it dries, had been cleaned up by a manager and himself with the help of a backhoe.

Had precautions not been taken, The Shell Shop’s inventory of shells could have been cleaned, but decorative merchandise such as chandeliers and windchimes would have been thrown out had the water reached the stock, he said.

“If you lose your merchandise for the summer, it would not be a good thing,” Thomas said.

“We just felt so fortunate that we had everything so high,” he added. The city’s response has been better than during the aftermath of the 1995 flood, he said, and trash containers were put in the street to aid residents as they cleaned up.

Between two and 10 inches more rain was expected in late February. “We might have another flood before this is over with,” he said.