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The Zoo Gallery Keeping it Weird Since 1979

October 24, 2019 by Manny Chavez

“It’s a Zoo in there!”

The phrase takes on a new meaning when entering The Zoo Gallery...and that’s a good thing!

It must be, as the fun and funky gallery is busy celebrating their 40th year in business. Founders Chris and Roxie Wilson began their gallery journey back in 1979 with the opening of a small shop in Fort Walton Beach. They've been located at Shoreline Village in Destin, The Market Shops ain Miramar Beach, and Destin Commons. Along the way, they added one-of-a-kind retail items to their gallery lineup and have settled on their current locations in Grayton Beach (across from The Red Bar) and Grand Boulevard. (Roxie was teaching art at Choctawhatchee High School when she and husband Chris decided to give the gallery business a go).

“We are the oldest “mom & pop” or independent business in the area that I know of,” says Roxie. “Our main purpose when we started was to support as many artists as we could...it’s hard making a living as an artist in today’s world."

Walking into the Zoo is like walking into a kaleidoscopic, eclectic dream world  of pottery, jewelry, prints, cards, furniture, home decor, and some downright weird stuff!  Almost everyone is amazed and it's easy to find that special item you just can’t live without. The visual display, combined with the music, quickly takes you from wherever you were to a new and exciting happy  place...a truly unique shopping experience that will stay with you for a while. Whether you buy something or not, you'll surely know that “you’ve been there and done that” at the Zoo!

The Zoo also carries probably the coolest t-shirts on the planet and have introduced their celebratory Forty Year “Summer 1979-2019, A Forty Year Trip” T. This shirt is literally flying out the door and is destined to rival their original “Stand Out from the Heard” T-shirt featuring a colorful zebra emanating from a tube of paint. During our interview, a female customer from Georgia  approached Roxie to let her know that she still had her original Zoo t-shirt purchased in the 80’s. Roxie lit up like one of her eclectic lamps as this was just another validation of her long-standing customer base.

“Our success couldn’t BE without our great employees,” Chris is quick to point out. "And, we’ve never been afraid to be different...we like to get weird.”

Back in the early eighties, the area tourist business was concentrated in Fort Walton Beach. There was little or no activity in SoWal. The tourism business didn’t start gravitating towards Destin until the late 1980’s. Roxie and Chris opened the Grayton Beach store  in 1999 and the Grand Boulevard location in 2011.

"We love our Grand Boulevard location and our store in Grayton Beach is a really happening place. We look forward to the Red Bar re-opening (the Red Bar went down in flames last February) as they complement our business perfectly," sys Roxie. " Between their music, our music, their atmosphere, our atmosphere...it just makes for a daily block party!”

Roxie’s son Baxter has taken on added responsibilities (he grew up in The Zoo) and will soon be handed the reins for managing the business.

“We’ve always done things as a family,” emphasizes Baxter. “We all share a love for animals, and we are a ‘cage free, all-organic, all-natural, free range Zoo,” he says with a smile.

Roxie, who stylizes perfectly at the Zoo with her cool attire (high-top tennies, overalls, and snazzy shades), flits about the store with her ever-present companion, Walter.

"He’s my “Little Boy in a Dog Suit,” laughs Roxie.

A big part of The Zoo’s success has been their hands-on approach to customer service.

“We are in the stores all the time,” says Roxie. “We enjoy getting to know our artists and we travel all over to buy and get to know them.”

The clothing line featured at The Zoo would best be described as timeless, ready-to-wear fashion. Roxie is a living testament to this “look.”

“We support American artists and American handcraft, displaying hand-made jewelry, hand-picked cards, artwork, women’s clothing, accessories and home goods," says Roxie.

The Zoo has made a business of “standing out from the heard” and hope to keep the ball rolling. Baxter brings in new blood and new ideas which should guarantee their customer’s lifestyle, wonder-world shopping experience.

For more Zoo information: Grayton Beach Store hours, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (850-231-0777), 89 Hotz Ave., across from The Red Bar. Grand Blvd. Store Hours, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday, 500 Grand Blvd, Bldg. K, Suite 104 (850-837-9233 - www.thezoogallery.com.

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Manny Chavez's picture

Manny has been a working photojournalist his entire career and is now writing stories/taking pix for SoWal.com. He and his wife Kris live in Seagrove and have “seen a lot come and go.” Lots of stories have been told, with lots more to come!

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