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@Work: St. John Hardware

July 6, 2005 – St. John Hardware at the Marketplace shopping center is the kind of place where folks come by for some nuts and bolts along with the latest on what's happening with friends, and advice on what piece of hardware fits their particular needs.
"We feel we give personal service," Terry Bertolino said.
She and her husband, Tom, along with Kate and Jim Swan own St. John Hardware. Terry Bertolino said that since the four are not absentee owners – they all work at the store – they can keep a close eye on the store's activities.
They bought the business 10 years ago when it occupied a ramshackle building called the old supermarket. It was located in what is now the Marketplace's lower parking lot.
"The year before [hurricanes] Luis and Marilyn," Terry Bertolino recalled.
She said that the hurricane aftermath helped cement the hardware store's position in the community because it supplied necessary products as the community rebuilt.
Recovery was difficult thanks to problems with communication, but Jim Swan recalled them as fun times.
"It was fun because it was new for us," he said.
Terry Bertolino added that they learned a lot in that short period of time.
St. John Hardware moved to its present location in April 2000 as the Marketplace neared completion.
"We had customers carrying stuff up," Terry Bertolino recalled.
Jim Swan added that it was because they needed what St. John Hardware was selling, that they were so willing to help.
The shopping center was a collaborative effort by the St. John Hardware owners, St. John architect Glen Speer and Starfish Market owner David Mugar.
Terry Bertolino said they've since outgrown their space but make do with what they have.
The store is chock full of the usual hardware store items plus many items needed by St. John residents and villa managers. They also carry small appliances like coffee makers, blenders, irons and toasters.
"And art supplies – oils, acrylics, watercolors, brushes, and canvases," Kate Swan added.
The store also has an extensive selection of garden supplies, including orchid pots.
Terry Bertolino said she finds one big challenge in running a hardware store – getting the merchandise to St. John. She said it takes two weeks from the time an order is placed until it arrives on St. John. This means that if there was a sudden unexpected run on paint brushes, customers may find the store has none left in stock.
She said the island's building boom is good for business in two ways. First, they sell to the contractor who builds the house. Then, the owner sells the house and the new owner wants to redo it. The contractor then buys supplies for the renovation from St. John Hardware.
The four owners came to the hardware business with various skills learned in previous jobs and ventures.
Terry Bertolino, 48, grew up in Pasadena, Calif. She moved to St. John in 1979, found a job at St. John Watersports/Proper Yachts before moving on to work at a St. Thomas retail store.
Kate Swan, a Kentucky native who was shy about giving her age, also worked for St. John Watersports/Proper Yachts after she arrived on St. John in 1981. Restaurant and bar jobs as well as ownership of a business that provided art and office supplies for small businesses followed. She also worked as a hairdresser.
"Then we had kids," she said, referring to herself and Terry Bertolino.
Tom Bertolino, 49, was born in Suffern, N.Y., and moved to St. John in 1980 to work as an architect on Stanley Selengut's Concordia project. After that project dragged, he joined up with St. John architect Glen Speer. Eventually he became a designer/builder.
Jim Swan, 52, was born in Babylon, N.Y. He was in the construction business after he moved to St. John in 1979. At one point, he was part owner of the long-closed Two Swans Deli.
"We opened it because there was no place for my guys to get lunch," he said referring to his construction crew.
Two staff members and the dog Lilly round out the St. John Hardware team.
Terry Bertolino said that while it's been a long haul, the four are still friends and each couple is still married to each other.
You can reach St. John Hardware at 693-8780.
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