Aug. 3, 2005 Donald Schnell Studio got its start way back when St. John had only a few tourist-oriented shops. Schnell opened his doors in 1975 in a geodesic dome near where Duffy's Love Shack now operates. He, along with other merchants, made the move to Mongoose Junction shopping center in the late 1970s.
"We were afraid no people would walk that far," he said of its then-location out of Cruz Bay's heart.
Mongoose Junction is now one the busiest shopping locations on St. John. However, Schnell is expanding to a second gallery on Route 108 in a building sandwiched between the Texaco gas station and Fashion Palace.
Schnell owns it and the adjacent building, both now part of what he intends to be the Amore shopping center. He also has his office at Amore so he can pay bills and keep tabs on his three or four rental villas.
He's in the midst of a major rehabilitation project, with both buildings sporting new paint jobs and planters installed in the western building and on the top floor of the eastern building. He has plans for stone walls, arches and walkways.
His buildings are at the western end of what could become an attractive shopping area as the need increases for more Cruz Bay retail stores.
He said he needed the space since he and his staff created the store's wares in a cramped former cistern located near his Mongoose Junction shop.
"We'll get them out of the basement," he said.
He said that the new gallery and work area will give him more of an opportunity to teach his staff how to make pots.
Schnell said he got his start with light fixtures, still a major part of his business. Of course, you can buy myriad items candle holders, pots and much, much more at his shop but his light fixtures are well-known around the Caribbean and beyond.
He and his wife, Deborah, moved to St. John in 1975. After graduating from Central Michigan University with a bachelor's degree in education and art, he went on to receive a master's degree in counseling and therapy from the University of Chicago. While working as a counselor in Chicago, he met the woman who would become his wife.
He soon began creating pottery, working long days as a counselor to give him free time to develop his craft.
After hearing about St. John from a colleague who spent time sailing around the territory, he and Deborah Schnell packed up and headed for adventure.
"We felt, what did we have to lose," he said.
He spoke fondly about those long ago days when he first went into business on St. John.
He said he finds St. John a good balance between the farm life he grew up with in Lathrop, Mich., and life in the big city.
"You meet all sorts of interesting people passing through," he said, listing actor Alan Alda, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and country and western singer Kenny Chesney as those who've frequented this store.
He also said he finds it interesting to meet the parents of St. John residents who stop by the store when they're out and about.
The Schnells have three children. Abigail, 28, returned home to St. John to sell real estate. Lucas, 26, does stock market trading on St. John, and Michael, 22, is traveling after his recent graduation from the University of Miami.
Schnell also likes to travel and recently made a trip to Italy with his wife.
He said he's an avid gardener, an aspect of his life apparent in the lush plants that grace his pots.
"And I'm trying to make sure I have time enough for myself," he said.
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