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@Work: Boolchand's

Aug. 23, 2005 – Before expanding its business in the Eastern Caribbean, Boolchand's began as a one-store family operation in Curacao during the early 1960s, selling perfume, liquor and electronics. Thanks to a shift in the tourism industry, though, its offices have now spread across many islands, including St. Maarten, Bonaire and St. Thomas, with hopes of further development on St. Kitts.
"When the company was first started by my uncle, Doulatram Boolchand, the Curacao store did good business selling electronics," said Ram Mirpuri Sr., the company's vice president. "But then the cruise ships started taking their business to the Eastern Caribbean, so we looked to expand. That's how we got to the V.I., opening our first office on the Waterfront in 1970."
Due to the difference in the V.I.'s economic climate, however, the business underwent a series of changes before it transformed into what it is today, he said. "We were located in the space formerly occupied by Cosmopolitan, and because of all the stores surrounding us, we had to stop selling liquor altogether. The competition was heavy from businesses like Sparky's, Norma's, and A.H. Riise, so we looked for something else to sell."
Mirpuri and company found the perfect product after President Richard Nixon's visit to China in the early 1970s — linen. "This event opened up that market for us, and it did really well in Curacao," Mirpuri said. "But as we developed, and new generations started to come in, we realized that we had to start phasing that out, too. Nobody wants to buy things like that anymore."
After opening Boolchand's second store at Havensight Mall in 1983, Mirpuri said the company began to take advantage of a booming electronics industry. "There was a huge electronics market then, and now. The whole world is becoming one big shopping center, and we're playing right alongside the competition."
Like many other stores in St. Thomas' busy downtown area, Boolchand's also built up its jewelry section — this time without being wary of competitors. "Fortunately there are a lot of women who come here wanting to buy jewelry," Mirpuri joked. "But really, the jewelry market is great because manufacturers make so many different pieces these days… You can't compare one piece to another, so there's always something new to be found at each shop."
In fact, Mirpuri said the retail industry on St. Thomas in general has grown leaps and bounds over the last 35 years, catering to the tastes of younger generations. "Main Street is so different now, but I believe that it has changed for the better. It's bustling, like a little metropolis — and that's what has helped our business to grow. Don't get me wrong, we have had our tough times —especially after 9/11 — but otherwise, we've been able to keep the business running strong. I'm proud to see how far we've come."
Mirpuri said dealing with tourists is one of the best parts of the experience. In addition to meeting new people and being exposed to a variety of cultures, Mirpuri has picked up four languages — Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. "That's all thanks to my customers. I've met a lot of great people doing what I do."
After so many years of working on the island, St. Thomas for Mirpuri has become very much like the business — a home. "It's been great being here," he said. "I was married here in 1972. My son was born and grew up here. I've been able to experience the island grow as well, and I've had the business to come to for 40 years. The next place for me is definitely retirement," Mirpuri said with a smile.
"But I know that Boolchand's will continue to expand, as we're always looking for new prospects throughout the Eastern Caribbean."

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