Like the owners of neighboring
B & R Tackle, Sea Level owner Tami Oltman has also expanded her business in the York Beach Mall in South Bethany over the years.
They share something else in common.
“The wives come in here while the men are in the tackle shop,” Oltman said. “The men usually come in asking if we have seen their wives.”
What the wives are looking for is a new way to decorate their homes. Oltman’s store has all the necessary items for just that. And just last year she expanded to another space in the mall and moved the shop’s entire collection of pictures to that space, two doors down from the original Sea Level space.
Oltman started the store in 1979, and started on the basis of a more traditional gift shop with a lot of seashells. She also started with 1,200 square feet of space and is now around 4,200 square feet.
Prior to South Bethany, Oltman had a spot in downtown Bethany Beach, but when the space opened up to expand the first time in South Bethany, the store in Bethany was sold.
“I like being on the highway,” Oltman said. “There are a lot of people going up and down Route 1, especially in the fall.”
Those fall customers help Oltman’s business tremendously. The theme of the store is beachy/tropical. Many folks head south to Florida for the winter and would like to decorate their homes. They stop in to get the Florida look in Delaware.
The merchandise comes from many exotic locations, giving it that bright, tropical feel. Oltman gets some of her offerings from Indonesia, Mexico and Haiti.
And the theme picked by Oltman for her store is the only thing you will see displayed there. She said it was due to her love of the coast, as she is from West Ocean City, and being an outlet for artwork helped shape Sea Level.
The store is stocked with accent furniture, art, lamps, mirrors, sculptures, bedding and tableware, just to name a few.
And while Oltman isn’t an interior decorator, she does her best to help customers get a complete look.
“We help people match things to what is already in their homes,” she said.
With more homes in the area comes more business for Oltman. Indeed, the boom of housing sales helped her make the decision to move away from running strictly a gift shop to more of an interior/home place.
Once established in the South Bethany location, the pictures she offered were the biggest category of product for the store, and when the additional space became available, Oltman took it.
The expanded Sea Level originally operated with general merchandise in both spaces, but Oltman found that customers wanted a certain type of product and they would have to go to both areas, because all the tropical merchandise was in a separate area.
Recognizing this as a problem, Oltman moved the pictures to one store. She can now display more pictures, rather than displaying some and stacking the rest. Something like that, Oltman said, is the difficult part of being in business for herself.
But being in business for 26 years, Oltman receives many repeat customers and a lot of referrals from long-time customers. And when she does her buying, she always keeps them in mind.
Oltman said the merchandise does very well, and with prices ranging from $1 to $1,200 for the most elaborate, it’s not hard to see why it does.
“People comment about our prices,” she said. “Some people say it is better than some catalogs.”
Pictures at the secondary store range in size from 8 by 10 inches to 48 by 60 inches, and range from $15 to $500.