With the sounds of the Charlotte Amalie High School Marching Band in the background, West Indian Co. Ltd. officials rang in the Christmas season Wednesday with the official lighting of the tree at Havensight Mall and the opening of a Christmas Village that was packed this year with vendors.
“We had a lot more interest this year,” WICO Executive Director Joseph Boschulte said before the lights were switched on. “We actually debated having the event from 5 p.m. on, but instead we started at noon and that was driven purely by the interest from our vendors.”
Three cruise ships had docked at Havensight on Wednesday, putting approximately 12,000 people at the dock, Boschulte added.
“And with 30 vendors this year, starting earlier was actually a good compliment for our main business, the cruise ships,” he explained. “The visitors came out, they did their tours and went to the beach, and then they came back and were able to peruse the booths and bring back some great local treats.”
Stretching parallel to the dock, the mall’s Christmas Village carried everything from food to local woodcrafts, and vendors set up at the event Wednesday echoed many of Boschulte’s sentiments.
Adding to the afternoon and evening was a packed lineup of entertainment, starting with the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra and ending with the sounds of Cool Session Brass from 6 p.m. on. Marching bands from CAHS and Ivanna Eudora Kean High also performed, turning the back street in front of the dock into a mini parade route.
“Every year it’s just so exciting,” said Carmen Sadler, a local food vendor whose permanent kiosk at Yacht Haven Grande is always packed for breakfast and lunch. “I’ve been here for 21 years now and it’s always great. This year, I was able to set up from 10 a.m., and while it was a little slow at first, there was a great crowd at lunch time and that always makes things easier, when you don’t have to hang out and wait. As a vendor, I always like to see the people out, and this year has been really good so far.”
Boschulte also said that once the cruise ships slipped out of port, crowds of locals came in, bringing their friends and families after work.
“It was really a great transition,” he said. “Everyone has appreciated the local drinks, local food and local crafts, so it’s really been a busy day from early this morning.”
On-island crowds were good business for vendors such as Aquanette Chinnery, whose body products – soaps, lotions and other things – are bought up as gifts from residents who are familiar with her JD Natlady label. Chinnery said she has been setting up at the Havensight Village for about three years now, and makes everything she sells by hand.
“What’s great about the holiday season is that there are a lot of local events, like this one, that cater to local vendors,” she said. “For me, it was a little slow at the beginning when the cruise ships came in, but the event also draws in a lot of residents, and that has been great. And you always love to be out, meeting people and seeing everyone you know, so this event has always been one of my favorites.”
The coming and going of tourists and locals was especially good for vendors who are self-employed, such as Margaret Morris, who was selling local dishes such as conch fritters and salmon balls.
“I’ve been coming here steadily for eight and a half years and it’s always been enjoyable,” Morris said. “I’m self-employed, so cooking is my work, and having the chance to come out and be here all day has been great.”
“My family is from Nevis,” Morris continued, “so I think one of my favorite things is also being able to see all the people I know that are also from there and catch up. It’s a lot of fun.”
One of the highlights of the event each year is also the visit from Santa Claus, who hands out hundreds of gifts to children attending the event.
“We’re excited about the day,” Boschulte said after flipping the switch on the Christmas tree. “And it’s always my pleasure each year to offer Christmas greetings on behalf of WICO and our board of trustees. As always, we want everyone to be safe, but also to really enjoy the holiday season.”