Where’s the Sheet(s)?
by Vivian Williamson-Bryan
Crystal. China. Perfume. Eye-popping jewelry. All the good things in life (this is written from a woman’s viewpoint, after all). But where are the pots and pans, the sheets and towels, the things you need? This is the question asked by multitudes of tourists that come from towns around the world where the luxuries and the necessities are often found practically rubbing shoulders.
Well, obviously the answer isn’t Main Street. As wonderful as that world-renowned shoppers’ paradise is, its lure is limited when it comes to day-to-day purchases (I know we all wish that those everyday purchases could include the first group of items listed above but let’s be real about this). What Main Street does have one of the largest selections of gold and gemstone jewelry to be found anywhere in the world (QVC doesn’t count); it could be classed with London, Paris, or New York – not bad when you consider their size compared to ours. It’s also the place to go for wedding, anniversary, birthday or any other big time presents. And on the other end of the scale, it’s also the place to go for the cheapest presents – T shirt shops are scattered around like confetti. Is it any wonder that with these shopping choices the overwhelming majority of faces to be seen are those of tourists and those employed in the sales force?
So where do we shop? East.
The first stop is just a little east of downtown. Havensight Mall is still on the tourist track but it is a little more local friendly – for one thing it has parking (of course downtown has parking but the municipal lot – usually the only choice unless you zip in at 7am to nab one of the almost non-existent street spots – involves a 3 block trudge to get to the business area and besides you have to pay! This is a relatively new innovation and something that does not sit well with long term residents who well remember free parking). Here you’ll find some clothing stores, the island’s best book store, a drugstore and a bank among the offerings. It’s on most islanders’ agendas at least occasionally.
Next stop on the shopping trip – and actually within walking distance of Havensight though that thought is an anathema to car loving Thomians – is the area known collectively as “Woolworths.” Much more than that venerable institution is located here. Grocery stores, another bank, fast food, shoes and clothing and proximity to the main post office make this a regular stop for the majority of locals but you won’t find many tourists here.
Now on a couple of miles farther east to Tutu, a major residential area and home to the island’s number 1 local shopping mecca – Tutu Park Shopping Mall, though it’s seldom referred to by that name. As in the manner of “Woolworths,” this area is usually referred to as “K Mart,” in honor of the first store (and the most anticipated) to open there. The mall has lots of the stores you’re used to seeing in malls all over America and like those malls it plays host to interesting events and exhibitions. The latest crowd draw (on Father’s Day appropriately) was a Classic Car exhibit (I told you Thomians love their cars). And since I’ll bet that the average net surfer is going to be more interested in pictures of cars than storefronts, here you go-
The way to a man’s heart is on 4 wheels!
There are also a couple of small satellite shopping area – Red Hook on the eastern tip of the island and subbase on the western side of town – but these are not draws except for residents living in their vicinity (ask me how many times a year I get to Red Hook!). Tutu is where it’s at for most of us.
So that’s the picture for shopping as the locals see it. We’ve progressed by leaps and bounds over the past few years (K Mart opened 2 years ago) but there are still huge gaps in the market. We’re still very dependent on catalog shopping, especially in middle market goods. There are low end choices and high end choices but plenty of room for expansion in the middle. To fill this need catalogs are currently king. Stand outside our post office for awhile and watch the boxes coming out – JC Penney, Spiegel, Land’s End, Chadwicks, QVC are just some of the names – in incredible volumes. A potential flood of business for whichever clever merchandiser decides to set up shop on the island to cater to the poor forgotten middle! Catalog shopping is wonderful (an absolute lifesaver at times) but instant gratification it’s not. One develops skill in planning and learns patience or else learns to settle for what’s available!
So, all you entrepreneurs out there who might like to trade in your snow tires and winter woolies, now you know what you can do to survive in this land of sun and fun. We’ll be waiting for you with open arms!