St. Thomas has long been known as one of the best shopping destinations in the Caribbean. With numerous malls and markets catering to resort and cruise tourists, you can find almost anything you want at a great price in the island’s bustling capital – Charlotte Amalie. However, not all travelers are aware of the wealth of incredible locally-produced products available in St. Thomas. From folk arts and crafts to handmade food products and spices, there are plenty of ways to shop for the best products St. Thomas has to offer.
The best location to find Caribbean folk art and local products is the Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative. Featuring the work of nearly 100 different locals throughout the year, the Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative is the largest shopping center devoted to local artisans in the Virgin Islands. Conveniently located next to the tourist information office in central Charlotte Amalie, the Cooperative allows locals to sell their artwork and handmade products directly to the public from the former United States colonial courthouse.
One of the most popular booths within the Cooperative belongs to Gwendolyn Harley, the artist behind a very popular series of hand-sewn dolls. Throughout the years, Harley has maintained an adoption log and seen her historically-minded dolls travel throughout the world in the hands of tourists and collectors.
For those in search of unique food products, a stop by Cheryl Miller’s booth will yield a number of award-winning flavors. Besides the popular jams and jellies handmade by Miller, five of her sauces – known by the label “Cheryl’s Taste of Paradise” – have taken home trophies from the National Fiery Foods Show in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can also find Miller’s products within the store she maintains in conjunction with her kitchen at the Compass Point Marina.
One of the Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative’s strangest booths belongs to Justin Todman, known locally as The Broom Man. Utilizing traditional Caribbean methods, The Broom Man weaves date palm fronds in intricate patterns and attaches all lengths of handles to create brooms for every possible purpose. Todman’s brooms are also very popular with couples getting married in St. Thomas, supporting African and Caribbean tradition of newlyweds symbolically jumping over a broom to start their life together.
Art collectors will also want to visit the gallery and silkscreen studio located at Tillet Gardens. For nearly 50 years, Tillet Gardens has served as the home of St. Thomas’ vibrant art community. The gallery is full of paintings and prints by the island’s most talented residents with work available for all budgets and interests. Housed in an old Danish farm, Tillet Gardens is also a great place to spend an afternoon as the site features a great outdoor restaurant and occasional performances by local musicians.
As you walk through the streets of the capital city, you will also see several additional art galleries selling the work of local painters and sculptors. Outside of Tillet Gardens, the best selection of artwork created in the Virgin Islands can be found at Mango Tango. Like Tillet Gardens and the Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative, the work available at Mango Tango and other galleries throughout Charlotte Amalie is reasonably priced, with unique pieces for all tastes and budgets. Also, keep an eye out for artisans selling their work in the small, open-air markets of the city. Many talented individuals sell directly to the public each day and all love sharing their stories with visitors.
St. Thomas is also one of the best locations in the Caribbean to find exotic spices. Much like the fabled Caribbean spice markets of the colonial period, today’s spice markets offer visitors the chance to taste and purchase exotic flavors and gourmet products. The best assortment of Caribbean spices can be found at Caribbean Marketplace, a sprawling emporium that specializes in bulk spices and gourmet condiments. Spices, teas and condiments can also be found at Down Island Traders – a popular store in Charlotte Amalie that also carries locally-made jewelry and crafts.
Like many other islands in the Caribbean, St. Thomas has plenty of talented individuals creating distinctive products by hand. Wherever you travel in St. Thomas, you will be able to find a piece of the island to take home with you. Most importantly, in most cases, you won’t be able to find these special treasures anywhere else.