While helping at her grandfather's auction since age 11, she wanted to follow a different path. The Central Bucks High School West graduate, who enjoyed working at a summer YMCA camp as a teenager, said she was always drawn to special-needs children.
"All I ever wanted to do was social work," she said.
Seltzer started working at a group home at age 18 to help pay for her own apartment while she attended community college. She then suffered what would be the first of several major setbacks: At 19, 20 years ago this month, she was seriously injured by a patient.
Although she remembers helping to restrain him - and then shepherding other residents to a safe place - she has blocked out the rest of the attack.
"They call it post-traumatic stress," Seltzer said recently.
She underwent surgery - a laminectomy, a procedure to remove a portion of vertebrae in her spine. Six months later, she was able to return to her job. She soon moved on, earning her bachelor's degree in social work from Millersville University in Lancaster.
Staying in Lancaster, she was hired by the local Boys & Girls Club of America, dealing with family intervention treatment services. But then at 26, bending down to hug a little boy, she reinjured her back, which led to another laminectomy and two spinal fusion surgeries within two years. Seltzer was then crossing the street on her way to rehab when she was struck by a car, landed on the hood, and was thrown 25 feet.
"My surgeon said I was the luckiest, unluckiest woman in his life," Seltzer said. "He expected me to be in pieces."
This time she suffered muscle damage, a concussion, and depression, and faced three years of struggling with the workers' compensation system while being unemployed.
"If you didn't know her, you wouldn't believe all this could happen to one person,'" said Wendy Gargan, a Chalfont resident, Upper Merion teacher, and friend of Seltzer's for 23 years. "She very easily could have spiraled downward. She's had comeback after comeback."
After the accident, Seltzer decided to return to Doylestown to be closer to family and undergo a year of physical therapy. She credits her physical therapist - and coffee - for helping her get back on her feet.
"After I was hit by the car, I was as low as I ever thought I'd be. I was in constant pain," she said. "I was tired of fighting and I just wanted to give up."
She had trouble getting hired for social work jobs because her injuries prevented her from driving, and according to her lawyer, because of her workers' compensation claim. Essentially, it was too risky to hire her, he said.
Seltzer soon saw a help-wanted sign at the former Coffee & Cream shop on East State Street in Doylestown; she would be preparing and selling coffee for $6.50 an hour. It was Valentine's Day 2002. She was 29 years old.
"I was very happy to have that job. It was the start," she said.
After 21/2 years at the coffee shop, she moved on to manage the nearby women's clothing store Lilies of the Field, located at the corner of State and Main Streets in the center of town. It was while working these jobs that she started contemplating her future. Could she open her own store?
"I have a passion for old things, so can I make it into a living?" she asked herself. "I was petrified to open a business. I told my husband, 'If I don't try, I'll regret it.' "
She looked for the right location for five years. With money saved from her insurance claims, she opened Vintage in a 200-square-foot space in the Main Street Marketplace in August 2008. Within a year and a half, she expanded to 1,400 square feet and then moved again - she was having a baby and needed a separate room for the baby's naps - to a slightly smaller store at her current location on West State Street.
Despite the struggling economy and the loss of several retail shops in Doylestown, her business grew steadily.
"It was sheer luck I opened when the economy was crashing," she said. "People were looking for less expensive things to buy, before vintage became the buzzword."
Sitting behind her counter on a recent morning, Seltzer, dressed in a flowing dress, weeds her way through a pile of jewelry. She takes screw-back earrings or broken pieces and uses them for earrings, necklaces, barrettes, and headbands that she makes. Jewelry remains her best seller. She goes to auction once a week. She uses only recycled gift wrap. She doesn't advertise.
"I hate things that are made to break. I hate buying new," she said. "A lot of vintage stores focus on categories or a time period. I just buy what I like. I have a little bit of everything. My average sale is $25."
While Doylestown consistently faces high rents and complaints about traffic, and despite the addition of chain stores over the last 10 years, many local retail shops continue to thrive, according to Lisa Schwartz, owner of Hens Teeth and a member of Merchants of Doylestown Borough.
"I think it's significant any of us have businesses in this economy, especially retail, especially small town," Schwartz said. "If you come in my store, I'm going to remember your name, your dog's name, your child's name, and I'm not unique."
Not only does Vintage have that customer service, but it is also filling a niche among the junior-high and high school set.
"She's really embraced the kids. There aren't a lot of stores here" that do that," Schwartz said. "Debi has a product that appeals to them and embraces it."
Meredith Puida, a teenager, wrote her a letter on her recent four-year anniversary, which was posted on Vintage's Facebook page:
"Thank you so much for being so nice to me and my friends each time we come into your store. . . . "
Separated into sections including vintage hair brushes and mirrors, compacts and pill boxes, beaded purses and shoes, the store holds such items as a nostalgic Daisy sour cream jar, ashtrays from the '50s and '60s (when one could smoke anywhere), and a James Bond Barbie doll that she loathes, but her husband, William Sammons, who is vice president of a manufacturing company by day, encourages her to keep. He's in charge of the comics.
Seltzer still faces challenges, including that her store is mostly surrounded by restaurants.
"I've had visitors say, 'I've never walked past the end of this block,' " she said. "It's actually a tough spot for retail if you don't have a following."
She also brings her 11-month-old daughter, Monroe Viola, to work four days a week; she has been tagging along since she was six weeks old.
"It's hard. I'm not going to lie. I just take care of her and the customers," she said. "The first day I brought her in I was really, really overwhelmed. This woman came in. She said to me, 'You're at work, your store is open, you have your baby. You've got a lot done.' I've never thought of it differently since. I'm going to bring her as long as I can."
It's that positive attitude and tenacity that help keep her going in business and in life, said friends and colleagues.
"She had a college degree and went to work in a coffee shop. She looked at that as a positive thing," Gargan said. "Her first store was essentially a closet. I have no doubt it's her passion that keeps her going. She's beyond full of life."