Jan Holman was visiting Manatee County in 1998 when she drove by an old building for sale in Cortez Village, once a manufacturing shop for canvas Bimini tops and boat covers. “I immediately had a vision,” she says. “I made an offer on it, and three weeks later, I started a new life.” Holman’s vision was The Sea Hagg, a ramshackle building now jammed with nautical salvage and antiques. She knew nothing of the sea at first and spent the first 10 years learning and collecting. Her shop overflows with ships’ portholes, cast bronze propellers, sailors’ compasses and nautical clocks. A kayak hull hangs from a ceiling, as do chandeliers made from fish hooks. Glass cases are stuffed with fossils, tortoise shells and coral, and there’s plenty of cheaper touristy fare like shells, jewelry, cute seahorses and mermaids of all sizes. Holman continues to collect as she travels, but people often come to her to see if she’ll buy their collections, and the shop expands haphazardly as she adds to her inventory. “Everything has a story and there’s much magic in what I do,” Holman says. “It almost feels like this place has a life of its own.”
The name The Sea Hagg originated when Holman was cleaning out the old warehouse and a friend asked her to dinner. “‘I can’t. I look like an old sea hag.’ That’s it!,” she remembers thinking.
These cannonballs came from a Spanish treasure fleet that left Havana in 1715 and shipwrecked near Vero Beach during a hurricane.
“I’m called the Net Queen. A lot are ripped and patched and have a lot of character. They’re fantastic in home décor, on top of tablecloths, as window treatments and shower curtains.”
These hand-blown glass floats from Japanese fishing nets bobbed across the Pacific Ocean and washed up on an Alaskan beach. Holman bought 350 of them from a Cortez snowbird who had collected each one as he walked the beach.
A dive helmet from the 1954 movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is for sale.
“We specialize in mermaids. The older ones are my favorites. A lot were figureheads that were to keep the evil spirits away when ships set sail. Some are at least 100 years old, and some are reproductions.”
“Portholes come so many different ways. When a boat isn’t seaworthy, they’ll salvage them. I have some that came off Elizabeth Taylor’s yacht, called The Cat, named after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I still have a chair from that boat.”