The Shell Factory hit a huge milestone last month, and July promises to be a real busy one, construction on Business 41 or not.
When students at Sunshine Elementary School came to the Shell Factory's Nature Park on a field trip recently, one of them represented the 15,000th student to attend the park, the Shell Museum, Fossil Museum and the Museum of Natural History, compliments of the Nature Park Foundation.
When the school system had to discontinue field trips several years ago, Shell Factory owners Tom and Pam Cronin and longtime Lee County educator Richard Dunmire took up the challenge to bring children to the nature park to teach them about animals from other parts of the world.
More than 22 buses of students are expected to arrive at The Shell Factory’s Nature Park, courtesy of the Nature Park Foundation, this month. More than 150,000 children have visited as part of the field trip program to date.
The foundation donates funds to pay for school buses and drivers, which cost an average of $150 a trip.
The non-profit, managed by the Cronins and Dunmire, have 22 more buses scheduled for July.
"We are very conscious of administrative costs so our staff contributes all the labor expenses," Tom Cronin said in a statement.
July promises even more excitement with numerous promotions and events. Biggest of all is the annual Christmas in July promotion.
"All month long we have 20 percent off on all holiday items in the holiday department, including collectibles, as well as random red light specials throughout the store every day," said general manager Anne Sheridan. "Santa will be here July 12 and 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a special trip from the North Pole for us. The kids love it. It's so exciting for them."
The idea came from Sheridan simply wanting to do something different after the house was redecorated with a gingerbread house theme. They expanded their trees and thought it would be nice to have Christmas in summer, with Christmas music and everything.
"We have one of the few holiday houses left in the state. Many have closed," marketing director Rick Tupper said. "It's our fifth year of doing it and it's been very successful."
Besides Santa coming, Saturday will be highlighted by a blood drive where anyone who gives will get a free sandwich at Subway, which is located at the Shell Factory.
The Lee Memorial Health Service bloodmobile will be in the inner parking lot from noon to 5 p.m.
The Shell Factory also has a Monday promotion throughout July where called a "Kid's Day Funday," with special pricing for kids to most of the attractions, including the Nature Park and lunch, for $25, Tupper said.
Tupper said the Shell Factory has continued its strong performance despite all the construction of Business 41. The parking lot is full behind the mountains of dirt.
The Shell Factory also has been doing its own renovations, Tupper said. The Swamp Bar has been redone, and the restaurant is in the process of being redone.
And the work has paid off, Tupper said.
"We were up about 12 percent last month in attendance and revenue. It's very much above what we were last year," Tupper said. "We keep moving forward."
Sunshine Elementary students arrive at the Shell Factory's Nature Park on a field trip recently. One of them represented the 15,000th student to attend the park.