Best Caribbean Shopping Off the Beaten Path, Part 2

by David Paul Appell

For too many folks, Caribbean shopping in the 21st century seems to be all about duty-free malls, Rolex and Seiko shops, cheesy T-shirts, and made-in-China trinkets. Good thing there are still plenty of distinctive options where local flair and products can still be found —if you know how to smoke ‘em out. Following up on last week's Part 1, here’s my hand-picked round-up of seven more islands’ worth of goodies,from vanilla rum in St. Barts to conch pearls in Turks and Caicos:

St. Bart’s It’s not like this très chic island has an excess of what you’d call schlock, anyway. But a couple of particularly classy faves include M’bolo,a charming, longstanding little hole in the wall on Gustavia’s Rue Général de Gaulle. Its star product is owners Sandy and Christian Hauret’s luscious version of the island’s specialty tipple, rhum vanille (vanilla-infused rum punch). Other flavors include chocolate, coconut, passionfruit, and lemongrass (hmm, not so sure about that lemongrass). M’bolo also offers perfumes, spices, jams, candles, and household decorations. Up in Anse de Lorient, check out the flagship of one of SBH’s top international brands, the skincare products and accessories maker Ligne St. Barth; what makes these various lotions and potions stand out is the use of Caribbean botanicals. You can also find them in other boutiques, hotels, and spas around the island (including a Ligne St. Barthboutique on Gustavia’s Rue de Gaulle).

Sonya Ltd. St Croix hook bracelets, USVISt. Croix  Historic capital Christiansted is great for locally flavored jewelry. Exhibit A is Crucian Gold,where Brian Bishop and sons Ben and Nathan specialize in gold and silver knotted bracelets and rings, plus brooches, earrings, and pendants with island themes (sugar mills, for example, or the carnival stilt dancers known as "mocko jumbies"). You’ll also find conch pearls,whose jewelry-grade versions are even rarer than regular pearls. At Island Boy Designs, Whealan Massicott turns out “feelgood jewelry” with graceful, organicswirls, knots, waves, and interlinked rings. Feeling especially groovy? Have a gander at his peace-sign line. Finally, Sonya Hough of Sonya Ltd. is the originator of the famous St. Croix hook bracelet (right) sold all over the USVI, distinguished by its U-shape clasp.

St. Kitts  Along with Adrosia, Caribelle Batik has become among the Caribbean’s best-known lines of this distinctive dyed-cotton cloth with patterns created from molten wax. At Romney Manor, a 17th-century sugar plantation outside Basseterre, you can seewomen’s and men’s clothing and other items being made, browse the merch, and stroll botanical gardens and picturesque ruins. For gals’ and dudes’ duds with a more modern but definitely Kittian sensibility, check out designer Judith Rawlins’ Brown Sugar boutique in downtown Basseterre.

St. Lucia  Down on the southwest coast, the fishing village of Choiseul and outlying La Fargue are St. Lucia’s crafts capital, and though you’llfind some of their output in the capital’s Castries Market, this is the source. The Choiseul Arts & Crafts Center sells great stuff from more than a dozen dedicated artisans, like the traditional Carib-style pottery of Sabina and Helena Charlemagne; masks, people and animals carved by Lawrence Deligny; CD’s from musicians like the Wowo Band and Kintu; and the grass weaving of Rosemary Felcion and others. You can also get directions to the homestudios of some of these folks.

Roland Richardson Gallery, St. MartinSt. Martin/St. Maarten There are plenty of artists and galleries on this island, but one not to miss is the Roland Richardson Gallery. It’s the 19th-century gingerbread-trimmed wood house and gallery indowntown Marigot of the eponymous bushy-bearded Richardson, one of the Caribbean’s greatest artists (and characters). It’s a treat to browse his impressionist oils and watercolors (a trademark is his depictions of the flaming royal poinciana tree); you can buy originals or less pricey limited-edition giclées (digital prints). And if you’re lucky, Roland himself will be there for a schmooze and a story. On the Dutchside, check out Phillipsburg’s Guavaberry Emporium,an old cedar townhouse once the home of the local governor, now a shop run by a pair of colorful local ladies, Claudine Ruan and Deita Mullen.The star is the island’s best-known tipple, guavaberry liqueur, butthere’s plenty of other booze, too, including mango liqueur, limeliquor, and rums. Hot sauces, honey, perfume, and doodads round out the selection.

Bernard K. Passman black coral jewelry, St. ThomasSt. Thomas Oneof the worst offenders when it comes to cruise-ship-fueled commercialization and schlock, Charlotte Amalie still manages to harbor some special little shops and galleries like  Mango Tango, Gallery St. Thomas, Jonna White Gallery, S.O.S. Antiques, and the Native Arts & Crafts Cooperative. The most distinctive may be Bernard K. Passman,with locations on Dronnigens Gade and in Havensight Mall. Its specialty is deeply elegant deepwater black coral (right): Pieces include intricate figures of animals and people, along with graceful rings,earrings, necklaces, and other baubles, sometimes mixing in diamonds and gold. I’m told that this fairly rare and endangered coral isn’t collected live, but rather from pieces broken off naturally by storms. Guilt free!

St. Vincent  Up the coast from Kingstown, the funky little town of Wallilabou is home to the Wallilabou Craft Centre,in a small former banana-packing plant. Founded as a co-op in 1986,these days the center’s run by Vida Bulze, a doyenne of local crafterswho gathers from suppliers all over the SVG. Specialties are itemsbraided and woven from local pandanas and wiss plants – baskets, bags which look a little like suitcases, hats, and kids’ toys – but there’s also needlework, macramé, jams, spices, and Vida’s son Junior’s metal sculpture, much of it made out of auto parts.

Turks and Caicos  Plenty of fancy little galleries and shops have opened on increasingly upscale Providenciales, but my faves are a little earthier. Up near Provo’s eastern tip, the Caicos Conch Farm is not only a cool attraction in its own right, but also has a modest gift shop that’s a monument to what it’s possible to do with a few pinkshells: beautiful belts, earrings, necklaces, lamps, bowls, and more.You’ll also find miscellaneous other items, conch related and not, like cookbooks, natural sponges, and sharks’ teeth. Also ask if there are any pink conch pearls in stock. Closer to fancy Grace Bay, the Blue Hills Artisan Studio onShore Road is the low-slung outlet of the Middle Caicos Co-op, representing around 40 artists and artisans from all over the TCI.

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