SEASIDE — A passion, a paycheck and a pension. When it comes to the revolving role rocks have played in Terry Hiatt’s life, it simply depends on the timing. Today, rocks are his livelihood, but they’ve always been his passion. Since 2013, rocks have played an increasing role for the Seaside business that recently wrapped up its best sales season since opening.
“The first season is scary, you just don’t know,” Terry Hiatt, owner of Shamous’es Rocks, said standing behind the counter of his downtown Seaside shop. “I survived it.”
It’s now been three years since Hiatt launched his business on North Holladay Drive, and business has never been better.
“I doubled my income from the first year,” Hiatt said. “Then from that season to this season I doubled that one. It’s pretty cool.” The secret, he said, is saving money when sales are strong because the zero days will inevitably come. But if you’ve saved, they won’t kill your business.
“When you make money, you have to put away your rent for the winter,” he said. “That way it doesn’t hurt so bad when you have these zero days because you’re going to have some zero days.”
As child, Hiatt, now 62, would pick strawberries to earn a little spending money. Rather then use his hard-earned cash on a new toy, he often opted for a new rock for his budding collection.
“I kept just saving and saving and saving,” Hiatt said. “Once I got out of the military, I really got into it (rock collecting) hot and heavy,” he said.
Hiatt maintained a career as a commercial builder and remodeler in Portland while searching streambeds, beaches and rock fields and continuously adding to his collection in his free time. As he got older, Hiatt was no longer eager to be on his knees digging in the dirt like he did in his youth.
“My digging days are done,” he said. “Forty years of setting floor tile took its toll.”
After retiring, Hiatt moved to Seaside to join family.
“It was a blessing. I never envisioned doing this business, but I brought my rock collection with me, so I thought ‘Maybe I’ll open a rock shop. And that’s what I did.”
Since opening the store on Nov. 1, 2013, the inventory has more than doubled. Rough rock, fossils and slabs, organized by type and size, line the floor as several shelves of polished specimens greet customers of every height.
“I’m kind of growing out of the building here, unless I remodel and add on, but I can do it,” Hiatt said. “I do all my own cutting and polishing. My tumblers are going 24/7.”
Hiatt is ambitious about the future of the store and has more invested in store inventory than a savings or stock portfolio.
“Rather than put money away in a savings account, I just keep reinvesting into the store,” he said. “You’re not going to make the kind of money in savings account that I make here. So I just keep investing.”
Metaphysical stones, such as quartz and crystals, are among hottest sellers for adults, while kids are often are attracted to the amethysts and fossils.
Many of Hiatt’s favorite rocks come from across the world, some of which he’s held for more than 40 years. But it’s a fossil he found in Tillamook six years ago that’s among his most coveted.
“The neatest thing I’ve ever found is a fossilized pinecone,” Hiatt said holding the tennis ball-sized fossil in his hand. Hiatt plans to eventually donate it to the museum in Tillamook or Hillsboro.
While beachcombing can provide an opportunity to find rare rocks, it’s in the mountains where some of the best specimens await discovery, according to Hiatt.
“You’ve got to get away from the beach and go up into the mountains off the rivers and inland where the volcanoes used to be — that’s where you’ll find better stuff,” he said.
Hiatt recommends doing research before running out for your next rockhounding adventure, particularly the book “Gem Trails of Oregon” by James Mitchell (Mitchell also publishes a “Gem Trails of Washington.”)
“This is a have-to-have type book. It has detailed maps of how to get there and which claims are still open,” Hiatt said. Once you’ve reached your desired rockhounding destination, the rest is simple. “You just start walking and if you see something shiny or sparkle you reach down and pick it up,” he said.