I arrived in the USVI on September 14th, 2004. I had purchased a round-trip ticket intending to return in 10 days after I had scouted for a job and a place to stay permanently. I never used that return ticket.
I have been coming to St. John every year for the last 7 years as a tourist. 7 to 10 day stays typically. Since my very first visit, I always said if I ever had a chance I would love to try living here. I got that chance and have taken a 4 year hiatus from my “real job” to write a book.
I realized that St. John was more expensive in general than St. Thomas, but since I had fallen in love with St. John, I wanted to make an attempt to live/work there and use St. Thomas as a fallback. If St. John proved too expensive, I would “settle” for the East End of St. Thomas.
I had made a reservation at the Inn at Tamarind Court in St. John for 10 days. My total price was $524.88 inclusive of taxes. That got my a tiny one bedroom with a shared bath. The Tamarind’s “Chic Shacks” are 6 one bedroom units that share 2 bathrooms. The guests were almost all new to the islands, just like me, and it provided a great networking opportunity. Everyone was eager to talk about what they had found or who was hiring and who was not. I built up a number of friendships in my 10 days there.
I had also previously decided that I needed a rental car for these 10 days. I would be doing a lot of running around and time was money! I rented a Toyota Tercel from Discount Car Rental, by the airport in Charlotte Amalie. (877-478-2833) I paid $254 total for the 10 day rental.
When I got here, Discount Car picked me up from the airport, I picked up my car and drove directly to the Cingular Wireless office at Crown Bay Marina. While the office was almost empty it took me 2 1/2 hours to finally walk out of there. I was prepared for “island time” so no worries.
Then I drove to Red Hook to take the ferry to Cruz Bay, St. John. The car ferry is $20 each way or $35 roundtrip. The normal “people” ferry is $3 each way. You can also buy a book of 20 trips for $30, which makes it only $1.50 each way. The ticket books are only valid for 30 days so make sure you will be able to use them all.
Once I got to St. John and checked in, it started to rain. Hurricane Jeanne had arrived with me and it rained for 2 straight days. This wasn’t a good start. 20% of my trip lost to rain. It wasn’t that I was scared to get wet, it just that most places didn’t even bother opening their doors so I would have just been walking around getting wet for nothing!
On the third day, the rains broke and I was able to start looking around for:
A) A place to live
B) A job
On St. John, the place to live is much, much harder to find. St. John is a small and EXPENSIVE island so you have a lot of multi-million dollar villas and lots of small shacks and shanties and very little in between. Those that do have a “nice” place realize what they have and command a stiff rent, with long leases and very little wiggle room. These landlords aren’t “cutting deals.” They know that if you don’t pay their price that the next guy will and it won’t be long either. This is prime time here.
There are 3 community bulletin boards in the Cruz Bay area.
There is Connections right in downtown Cruz bay. They have the largest board and certainly get the most views. They charge $3 a month to post a 3X5 index card. They also offer mailbox/answering service for $15/month. You can get all your mail sent here and they will take your calls and leave you voice messages if you have no island phone number. They have public internet service. It’s $3 for 15 minutes and $5 for 30 minutes. (340-776-6922)
There are 2 boards in the Marketplace, which is St. John’s “mall.” Starfish Market has one as you walk in and The Mail Center (2nd Floor) has one as well.
The Mail Center offers mailbox services as well and it much cheaper. I paid $99 for 12 months of mail delivery here. (340-714-7250)
I checked these boards and called all of the listings for apartments and got zero leads. So, I hit the pavement and started looking for work. My many visits to St. John in the past gave me some great insight into all of the restaurants and bars since I had literally patronized each and every one!
A little background on me, I owned a bar/restaurant in NJ for 3 years. I know the business from the inside out and really all I’m looking for is a bartending position pay my rent while I’m here. I was hoping my background would give me a little of a leg up on my fellow applicants.
First place I saw was The Lime Inn. I walked up and asked to see the owner and was introduced to the husband and wife team, Rich and Chris Meyer. Very nice people, Chris does the hiring and she sat me down in her office and we talked for about 10 minutes. She starts going thru her bartender schedules and says, “Well I can give you 4 nights a week if that’s OK.” Score! I got a job on my very first interview!! I tell her that in all honesty this is my very first interview and that I had a few other places I needed to visit before I committed. I promised to let her know on Monday, 2 days later. She said that was fine.
Now that I at least have a job lined up I became more interested in finding a place to live. I dropped off resumes a a few other places around Cruz Bay but decided that my focus from now on would be housing.
Through the grapevine I heard about a 3br place that was available. It was through a realtor, I called and she invited me to go and take a look at it.
3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths, large living room, large kitchen, large deck, washer and dryer. They wanted $2500/mo with no utilities included and unfurnished.
While that is a lot of rent, I was sure that I would be able to find some roommates to share this great apartment with and probably lighten some of the burden of the rent on myself.
I was seeing 1br studios being posted for $1800 at Connections, so I knew I could make this into a great deal. 3 days later, I gave the realtor a $1000 deposit. I couldn’t find anything comparable and all the locals I told about it said that it sounded like a great deal. Within the week I had written a check for 1st and last and the security deposit and signed a 1 year lease.
I know had a job and a place to live and I hadn’t even been here 8 days. Since I was settled in, I decided that I didn’t need to go home at the end of my 10 days.
I started at the Lime Inn and moved into my new place.
I posted an ad at Connections for roommates and had 2 messages the next day. I arranged a meeting and met 2 girls that had just moved to St. John and their dad who was along for support while they found a place. They looked at the place and loved it right away, they gave me their first, last and security on the spot! Bang! One day and I have a roommate!
The other room I had previously committed to some folks right from the VIMovingCenter Message Board, so I was now fully occupied.
9 days into my tenure at the Lime Inn, I get a call from Liz Duffy from Duffy’s Love Shack. While I was still in the states I had noticed a job posting for a GM on Monster.com, of all places. I sent off a resume but hadn’t heard back until now. They wanted to set up a meeting, which we did and at the end of which I walked out as the GM of Duffy’s Love Shack right in Cruz Bay, St. John!
I gave The Lime Inn the bad news. They wished me luck and we parted on good terms. Thankfully, since I have dinner there quite often!
The Duffy’s on St. John has been under renovation for the last 2 months and is scheduled to reopen before Halloween. I’ve been commuting over to the Red Hook location in the meantime to learn their systems.
I have a Nissan Pathfinder back in the states that I have already arranged to have shipped to me here. It won’t arrive until Nov. 16th and cost me about $1200 to ship from NJ to St. Thomas and probably another 1k to $1500 for road and duties. Car insurance comes out to about $330 for just liability or $1100 for full coverage.
Well, that’s what I can think about to tell you all right now. If any of you are ever in St. John, please stop in and say Hi!!