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Shark replica outside store stirring debate in Gulf Shores

Bull shark swimming towards camera, Beqa Lagoon, Beqa, Fiji (Getty Images)

GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) — One store in this Gulf Coast beach town has a giant, purple octopus draped across its roof, and the main entrance at another resembles the toothy mouth of a giant shark that customers can walk through.

But plans to install a realistic, 27-foot-long shark replica outside another store in an area that’s being spruced up for redevelopment are stirring debate, with some wondering whether such a display just steps away from the surf would be too scary.

A proposal to hang a giant shark model outside an Alvin’s Island store near Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores, a prime tourist town on the Alabama coast, is drawing questions among members of the panel that would have to OK the plan, Al.com reported.

“I don’t think this is appropriate to put out there with children,” said Pete Vakakes, vice-chairman of the Gulf Shores Planning Commission, during the group’s March 23 meeting. “We don’t want to glorify sharks,” he said. “Sharks bite people. It’s the wrong thing to put out there on the beach.”

The Alvin’s Island proposal also runs afoul of the city’s newest plans for future development near the beach, but some commissioners wonder whether they should deny Alvin Island’s request when across the street is Souvenir City, home to that famous shark mouth that forms the store entrance.

Marco Destin Inc., owner of the Alvin Island’s surf shops, contends the model great white shark would be “suitable for photographic shots with seasonal visitors to the site.” It would also anchor a newly remodeled Alvin’s Island shop, which opened about three weeks ago following an approximately $3 million renovation.

“These sharks have been found to be very popular,” said Lee Goodson, who represented the retail store chain, which has 60 locations along the East Coast, Florida and into Texas. “The kids love them. They are not scared of them. They love to stick their head in the mouth of the shark and get pictures with them. The whole idea is for this to be fun.”

Goodson said the store has two sharks hanging from the ceiling inside the store. He said the giant shark outside the store will align with the store’s overall marine animal theme, but the commission is considering whether the shark would run afoul of regulations covering “novelty architecture” in Gulf Shores.

Commissioner Matt Young said a giant shark hanging outside the store wouldn’t align with the city’s vision of “conservation.” He said he would prefer if the shark was displayed in more of its “natural” habitat.

But commission member Jennifer Guthrie said she enjoys bringing her children to see the purple octopus atop Gulf Shores Souvenir & Gifts and the Souvenir City shark, calling both displays “charming.”

“It’s quirky, it’s different,” she said. “It’s fun. It’s not like every other town in America that is the exact same shopping center after shopping center after shopping center that is uniform (in design).”

The commission will reconsider the shark display during its April 27 meeting.