The wildlife you’ll see in Destin and along Scenic Highway 30A is vast and varied: Sea turtles, dolphins, manatees (if you’re lucky), jellyfish (if you’re not) and plenty of crabs. Some people, however, make it a point to see the blue giraffe when they’re in town. No, this isn’t a rare Emerald Coast species, but it is an Emerald Coast exclusive: An art gallery, studio and gift shop located in Crossings at Inlet Beach.
The Blue Giraffe has been a 30A staple since the early 2000s, with a prior location in WaterColor, and has been owned and operated for the past 11 years by the mother-daughter team of Debbie Taylor and Christi Sheffield. Sheffield called the transition from professional artist to gallery owner “a God wink.”
“It was definitely serendipitous,” said Sheffield, reminiscing about the day The Blue Giraffe’s creator, Michele Myers, called to ask her to buy the business. “My initial reaction was, ‘Is this real? It can’t be. She must be joking.’
“And, then, I realized this is the next thing and how are we going to make this happen?”
After years of vacationing in the area (and visiting the Blue Giraffe), Sheffield — herself a professional artist and former Floridian — moved to the Emerald Coast in June 2010. Always with a romantic dream to own a gallery, she took a few months to figure out her “next thing” while working at a hair salon. Myers, who Sheffield had gotten to know over the years, called her one day at the salon with a surprise.
“She said, ‘I know you’re at work and you really can’t talk, but I have a proposal for you and I want you to hear me out,’” Sheffield remembered. “She let me know that she and her family were moving away and she had been searching her heart and praying about who she wanted to take over the business and that me and my mom kept popping into her head.”
Sheffield called her mom, who was still working in the corporate world in Tallahassee at the time. Eight short weeks later, the mother-daughter duo had created a business plan, done their due diligence, figured out financing and signed the papers.
“I had no experience running a business, but I definitely have an artistic eye and a passion for art and culture,” Sheffield said. “And, my mom had been running a business in Tallahassee. So, between the two of us, we had the wherewithal to do it.”
It wasn’t so far out of left field for the duo to consider going into business together; they’d already discussed opening a little bookstore or a combination bookstore-art shop. The Blue Giraffe’s founder spent some time getting Sheffield acclimated: Introducing her to artists, vetting her existing staff to become “new” staff; and, showing her the ins and outs of the business.
“It’s a lot of responsibility on my part because these artists, especially those who are full-time professionals, that’s how they make their living,” Sheffield said. “We just wanted to keep the same heart and soul as what [Michelle] created.”
Today, the Blue Giraffe is all about “arts and gifts with heart,” a gallery that represents 40 local and regional artists with a wide variety of gift items. Sheffield said the store carries art and gifts from a $25 table to a $5,000 statement piece and everything in between. Sheffield and her mom host charity events and also donate pieces for silent auctions for charities like the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, Alaqua Animal Refuge and South Walton Turtle Watch, among others.
The Blue Giraffe is always open to locals and enjoys visits from “regulars” when they’re on vacation. Sheffield said that’s likely due to the purposeful nature of the products she carries, ones that can’t be found just anywhere. A lot of the artists featured at the Blue Giraffe are exclusive to Sheffield’s gallery in the area. She said visitors often tell her it’s their favorite place to shop when they’re in town or they “came in to get their happy.”
“I think that’s partly due to the artwork we choose and the types of products we bring in, but it’s also the energy. It’s just myself and one employee and we just want people to have a good experience and leave feeling uplifted because life is too short to live it otherwise.”
The next 10 years at the Blue Giraffe, Sheffield offered, include plans for growth and more focus on the art consulting side of the business. With a complimentary consultation, Sheffield will meet with you in your home (or virtually) and make art recommendations to fit your style and budget and then install the pieces for you. With plenty of original styles to choose from, it’s a unique offering not available elsewhere.
“Giraffes have the largest hearts of any land animal on the planet and the females, specifically, are known for being very nurturing,” Sheffield said, talking about the origin of the shop’s name, which predates her ownership. “I feel like I’m carrying on this philosophy of nurturing and women caring for each other and that makes me happy.”
To learn more about the Blue Giraffe, visit bluegiraffe30a.com.