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Thursday, June 13, 2024


Sept. 8, 2001 – If the territory were fueled with the economic energy emanating from the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce Business Expo 2001 on Friday and Saturday, the governor and Legislature wouldn't have to worry about balancing the budget.
Under the massive roof of the new Sports and Fitness Center on the University of the Virgin Islands St. Thomas campus, almost 60 exhibitors displayed their wares and touted their services. The offerings covered a lot of ground, too: espresso, electric boats, ice cream, computers, banks, cookies, counter tops, pest control, hotel accommodations, automated-teller machines, legal services, consulting services, cellular phones, rustic furniture and much, much more.
Along with business exhibitors, the American Red Cross, the Humane Society of St. Thomas, Rotary International and the U.S. Postal Service had informational booths. So did St. Croix's Hovensa refinery, with personnel handing out information in an outreach to tell people how the company is set up and what it provides the Virgin Islands community.
UVI had two booths, one promoting its proposed research technology park, the other displaying information about the services of its Small Business Development Center.
Almost hidden behind two laptop computers and one desktop model sat Granville Smith, chief of computer operations for the Internal Revenue Bureau. He seemed in good spirits in light of recent publicity about the IRB not issuing tax-credit checks. Smiling, he said he wasn't getting a lot of flak about that, but people were stopping by because they "just want to look up their tax records, see them on the computer."
Most exhibitors were giving away raffle prizes — candles, cellular phones, hotel stays, signs, hot sauce — which kept the chamber's Priscilla Hintz busy calling off winning ticket numbers every hour. On Friday afternoon, Leona Bryant of WVWI Radio did her "Leona" talk show on location, interviewing participants and viewers.
Saturday featured three free seminars: "Home Decorating in the Caribbean," "The Power of Direct Mail Marketing" and "Opening Doors to Home Ownership." In the decorating area, Felipe Ayala of Silk Greenery led about 20 students on a whirlwind tour of what to do with fanciful items from that enterprise, owned by Toni Jackson. "No item should only serve one function," he said, displaying a tray as a tray and a tray as a wall hanging.
While the objective was selling themselves to walk-in customers, some exhibitors struck some deals of their own. Mary Simpson and Catherine Willey-Rowe of St. Croix, who just started Caribbean Business Solutions/Caribbean Dispensing ATM's, became intrigued by an electric boat at the next booth. Simpson, a water enthusiast and boat owner, couldn't take her eyes off the bright green and white launch about 35 feet long with a canvas canopy. "We're talking to the dealer about taking it to St. Croix," she said. "What a nice way to go to Buck Island!"
Joe Aubain, chamber executive director, set Friday's attendance by 3 p.m. at about 750 and called it "phenomenal." This is the first expo the chamber has had in two years, Aubain said from behind the Humane Society counter, where he was spelling board member/volunteer Claudia LaBorde for a few minutes. "This venue is wonderful," he said. "The UVI staff has been great … The community affairs department and Peter Sauer, director of the center, have helped so much."
Basic booth space went for $400, Aubain said, and there were three aisles chock full. There was a festive atmosphere, with balloons everywhere and friends greeting one another while stopping to compare notes.
University President Orville Kean and his wife Juliette, representing Banco Popular, and UVI's St. Thomas campus chancellor, Roy Watlington, were in evidence both days, mingling with the crowd and taking obvious pride in the new center.
Wearing one of the biggest grins was Randy Shaffer of Ace Sign Inc., who had signs from every restaurant and bar imaginable on display. "I sold $2,000 before 10 a.m. to the other vendors," he said Friday, "and another $7,000 to customers this afternoon." He stopped grinning to muse, "I was too busy before. What'll I do now?"
A crowd bunched up to munch chips with salsas, cream cheese and chutney at a colorful display representing a new collaborative endeavor of three local entrepreneurs. Called Caribbean Made Gifts, its product line is group-order baskets for corporate and individual gifts.
The three partners — Cheryl Miller of Cheryl's Taste of Paradise, on St. John; and Gail Garrison of Island Fragrance and Jason Budson of Caribbean Herbals, both on St. Thomas — will maintain their individual operations, too. But for the expo, they were three for one, and from the crowds around their booth, it appeared to be a good one.
Lawyer Tom Bolt offered an opinion free of charge: "I'm really happy to see the number of new businesses," he said. "It's an excellent opportunity for them. I didn't even know some of these consulting services — KPMG and Star Consulting — were on island."
Pointing to a corner filled with brightly colored pottery, pillows and pine furniture, Bolt said, "That's great stuff." Proprietor Roy Hall of Casa Rustica explained that his store had just opened in the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel. "This is wonderful exposure, just wonderful," he said of the expo.
Sandy Davis of Grandma Sandy's Island Cookie Co. & More was still cheerful Saturday after having given away more than 100 dozen cookies on Friday. "It's worth it," she said. "Once they taste them, they'll be back."
Tom Brunt of MSI Building Supplies, the immediate past president of the chamber, said, "It great, a good venue. There's a good cross section of people — I've never seen law firms and accounting firms before." He added, "Sales aren't the issue here. It's the exposure."
The expo was sponsored by Business World, Chase Manhattan Bank, Cingular Wireless, EVC Motors Co., Innovative and Knight Quality Stations.

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