These mother-daughter duos help shape and cultivate the Seaside way by Laura Holloway
The relationship between a mother and a daughter can be emotional and endearing, tried and true, difficult and frustrating, meaningful and everlasting. It’s the kind of relationship that evolves over time, going from a place of caretaker and child to that of a teacher and student, then a mentor and mentee, and eventually to friends and equals. When a family business is involved, another layer is added, one that can either cause dissonance or a stronger bond. And in the case of Seaside women, the family business is often the glue that brings the family back time and time again.
Seaside has always been a place for repose, rest and rejuvenation, and for many mother-daughter duos, the setting for weekend getaways, flavored with chilled wine and seasoned with ocean breezes. But for some, the town is a permanent fixture in life, a recurring theme and through line in the story of the relationship between mother and daughter. The town that so many enjoy today is attributed in large part to the vision, determination and continued care of two very important mother-daughter teams: Erica Pierce and Makenzie Carter, and Sara and Carmel Modica.
Erica Pierce and Makenzie Carter
Erica, working alongside Seaside co-founder Daryl Davis, created the Seaside brand and style, placing emphasis on the simple pleasures, fashion and styles that continue to attract fans from around the world. Her daughter, Makenzie, joined the journey as a teenager, and together they are responsible for the continued growth of some of Seaside’s most-loved shops.
How did your Seaside story begin?
Erica: We were living on the eastern end of 30A, and one day as I was driving, I saw a sign outside Bud & Alley’s that said, ‘now hiring,’ so I pulled in and interviewed with owner Dave Rauschkolb. He hired me as a waitress, then a hostess. I came to know Robert and Daryl Davis very well. I went to work at Pizitz (which was at that time a general store, with hammers, garden hoses, and shovels, and (she laughs) fine Egyptian cotton sheets. Then for several years, it was more like a gift store. The more and more I got involved with interior design with people in the town, we switched to furniture. That was about 16 years ago. Robert’s company wanted to really develop the retail business in Seaside, so Daryl bought Pizitz from Robert — I think for a dollar — and she and I collaborated and really started spinning off stores from Perspicasity and Pizitz. We opened a small local store called Sue Veneers, which is part of what Seaside Classic is now. Once that got going and became really successful, we moved that here and then started a children’s store called For Kids. Then came a stationery store (Papyrus) and then a small flower and bicycle rental shop called Petals and Pedals. We were just trying everything, and that’s really how all the retail developed. Other entrepreneurs were attracted to the area.
At that time, Daryl and I did everything. We bought for the stores, we merchandised, and it was just a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-do-it kind of place.
What has caused the businesses to last?
Erica: We tried to stay focused, and after years of experimenting with all different kinds of retail, we really started to work on the Seaside brand, and the Seaside style. And that’s where bringing Makenzie in was important, in fine-tuning and developing the brand even more.
Makenzie, when did you find your place in the business of Seaside?
When I was 14, I would come over from the Seaside school. And my first job was sweeping out the rooms of Perspicasity. Then I worked at what was then Sue Veneer’s express, then The Seaside Store, then the Seaside pool. Then I went to college, then moved back and managed Perspicasity for three years. I moved away again and had my first child, then moved back and we just started the marketing process. There was a need for social media, so I started a blog and created a Facebook page. And it’s evolved from there.
Erica: The good thing about Seaside in the beginning: all the people that worked here had kids all about the same age. They all started out at Bay Elementary, then Butler, and we got the school system to let the kids off the bus here in Seaside. We knew they were safe.
Makenzie: My sophomore year of college, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. So I moved back. He lived for a year and three months before he passed away — in the midst of all of that I started managing Perspicasity. You can go to college anytime, but you can’t get that time back.
Erica: It was a rough two years. It was hard on all of us, but I think it made us stronger as a family. After that, Makenzie and I became really strong in our faith, finding out what our purpose was. I think that made us even closer. We were baptized in the Gulf of Mexico.
Makenzie: On the roughest day of the year! Waves were crashing all over us.
Erica: But it was a new beginning, a cleansing, healing time for us.
Makenzie: Even so, even if that had not happened, I still think I would have ended up back here, doing what I’m doing. Even if I try to leave, I come back. I’m the only one of the original Seaside kids that’s still here.
What lessons have you learned from each other?
Erica: To slow down and take things a little easier. We balance each other. She has such a deeply engrained history of Seaside — she eats, breathes, sleeps Seaside. She keeps that protection of the Seaside brand close, and takes it personally. She’s also a millennium child, so she has that technology that my generation doesn’t. Having someone with those skills on the team is invaluable. She’s worked in the warehouse, as an assistant, in every store we’ve had, and she has truly earned her place on the team.
Makenzie: She’s always said, pick your battles. And that’s what stays with me.
What advice would you give for developing a good mother-daughter relationship?
Erica: You can’t control your child’s personality, or their life. You have to let them become the person they are, and to develop the friendship with your child rather than try to control them.
Makenzie: You can’t live in the past. Even if there’s been difficult times, it’s in the past.
Sara and Carmel Modica
If Perspicasity and The Seaside stores are fixtures in local fashion and style, Modica Market takes the market on gourmet food and small-town charm. The grocery store has stood the test of time, always having that special something to dress the table, or stock the pantry, something that you just can’t seem to find anywhere else. Amazingly, despite its fame and constant influx of visitors, it retains its humility and friendliness. Staying true to the vision of the late Charles Modica and his wife Sara, the store is a real family business, with son Charles Jr. and daughter Carmel
carrying the tradition forward. Everyone knows them, and always stop by to say hello. The Modicas know them all by name.
How did your Seaside story begin?
Sara: It was 1989. We had built a little house here in Seaside, and Robert and Daryl found out that we were grocery people in Alabama. They came to visit us in downtown Bessemer, and we were a family shop. They thought it was an ideal situation, and they asked us if we wanted to do a store in Seaside. Robert had a wonderful vision for what he wanted it to be. When it was ready, my husband said, “I think I’ve gotten too old.” And Robert laughed. So we moved here. Ours was the fourth house in Seaside, over on Tupelo.
What was Seaside like then?
Sara: It was so quiet, so wonderful. Robert asked us if we would stay open late (there were only a few little shops here) and we would all come and sit out until about 9 at night and enjoy each other’s company. At Christmas, to stimulate business, we would have ladies outside wrapping gifts. At the time, it was just a different place. It was quiet, and wonderful. We were all very close.
Carmel: I did PR in Seaside, so I was always in and out of the store working. Then about two months before Daddy died, I had retired from my job and had decided to start traveling with my parents and work in the store. Because he had me in tow! He knew I was here now, so he could go on.
What’s the biggest challenge with working together?
Carmel: We’ve worked together so long, we don’t have any glitches today, Charles and I. And with Mother, if she points out something that needs to be fixed I always laugh and just say, “Well, she’s right!”
Sara: (She laughs) I don’t work. I critique.
What has made your business last?
Sara: We’re always open to new ideas, but this has got to be us. We have to stay true to us.
Carmel: We listen to our customers. If they remembered something, or want something, we try to put it on the shelves. And we try to give local and regional people a place to sell their things.
What is something that you’ve learned from each other?
Carmel: I remember my Daddy would say, “Do good and good follows.”
Sara: And he also said, “Life is short. Eat dessert first.”
Carmel: Mother always taught us to be customer-friendly, to understand what the people need and want. But never to take any abuse.
Sara: She’s always calm about her work, so focused. There’s something also to say about an education. She always has a handle on what she wants and what she wants to do. She’s a role model for me. I fuss at her, but I really admire her.
What advice do you have for having a good mother-daughter relationship?
Sara: Being patient. I had to learn that with time. And listen to them. It’s a different generation, and you have to understand that.
Carmel: I can’t imagine not having that relationship. Respect, understanding, listening. You know, Mom’s lived, and she has this experience. It’s not that she knows everything, but she’s had the experience.
Sara: But we don’t know everything.
Carmel: It’s a give and take.
Sara: And you grow into the relationship.
From all you’ve learned, what would you say about each other?
Carmel: She is a rock star! She is a pillar of strength, always kind and loving. Everyone knows her, she’s a social butterfly!
Sara: She’s a very special human being. She always has been. Very talented, and a tremendous way of knowing and loving people. She has such a respect for people. Even as a child, she was very special, and had a lot of talents that I, older now, really appreciate.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting women who have contributed to their beloved community of Seaside.