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A Village Within a Town

The old entrance to Crafts Alive Village in Road Town, Tortola. All photos by Dan O’Connor.

By Dan O’Connor

The bright pastels and traditional West Indian and African huts of Crafts Alive Village act as a warm welcome to Road Town’s city centre. A short stroll from the cruise ship pier or the ferry terminal, this artists’ haven has become a home to some of the BVI’s most unique and talented craftsmen. Local artists like Joseph Hodge can often be found within a breezy, waterfront hut painting traditional scenes of a bustling Road Town marketplace, or an impressionistic version of the popular Virgin Islands rooster; a few doors down, Estelle Dawson might be braiding one of her signature straw hats; or the aromas of sorrel, guava berry and freshly baked rum cakes emitting from Ermine Macthavious’ storefront may attract a tantalized crowd.  It’s a familiar scene for return tourists and residents who have benefited from the pleasing aesthetics and unique gift items. Soon, however, return guests may be surprised to see what they find. Since July, government has embarked on an expansive plan to more than double vendor space and revitalise the area.

As of press time, construction at the Village was well underway. Before government-contracted employees broke ground on the project, Crafts Alive Village consisted of 14 buildings and 23 vendor spaces. After project completion, the area will house five new buildings and an additional 39 vending spaces. Plans also call for a boardwalk and waterfront amphitheater-style seating area.

Government plans for the proposed village.

According to Road Town City Manager Janice Brathwaite-Edwards, spaces filled up quick, and some 50 potential vendors currently fill a lengthy wait list. The high demand, she said, comes from the large number of unlicensed vendors that had occupied “Tent City”—the makeshift open-market place near the Cruise Ship Pier.

“Technically, Crafts Alive is full,” the city manager said on a recent local radio broadcast. “It’s kind of a difficult situation, but we are in the process right now of sitting down and trying to figure out who, if anybody out of that list, will be able to fill the spaces if we have any at Crafts Alive.”

Those at the top of the list, she continued, would include vendors who focused on selling locally made, authentic products—not those manufactured outside of the territory.  “Made in the BVI—that is the stance we are going to take,” Brathwaite-Edwards reiterated.

Along with the push for local vendors who produce local products, government officials are planning a training programmed for vendors.

“This training will entail how you display your things, how you market, how you package and the whole nine yards,” the city manager explained.

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These new and ambitious plans for the Crafts Alive Village could mean an influx of traffic in the area, and a boost for existing vendors. It could revitalize the area and make the shopping district more established and appealing for tourists and residents alike. It could mean a lot of things. But for vendors who are currently out of their shops—out of work—and who are patiently awaiting the project’s completion, it’s unclear what the future may hold.

Vendors line Crafts Alive Village’s quaint walkways.

Fiona Dugdale, who has owned Coral Studio in the Village since 2008, said she remains hopeful about the project.

“I’m not going to worry, but at the same time, I don’t know what will happen,” said the owner of the studio, where local coral items, figurines, jewelry and soaps are sold. “It’s impossible to guess, but you wonder what will happen with all those people in such a small area.”

Dugdale and her storefront neighbours benefit largely from cruiseship passengers, who flock to the village in numbers in high season. Since Tent City was erected by a number of vendors several years ago, she said the area has been adversely affected. Government officials have recently threatened to close the area that hosts a number of unlicensed vendors, but it’s unclear where they’ll be when the cruise ships begin revisiting the territory this month.

The Coral Studio owner said she hopes her new neighbours will focus on selling unique local products instead of bringing a stressful state of competition to the area.

A few doors down from Coral Studio, Locally Yours attracts patrons with a sweet tooth and good taste in local flavour. Ermine Mathavious owns the shop where local fruit liquors, popsicles, juices and candies are sold, said she also remains optimistic about the government venture.

“You’ve got this possibility of growth—a possibility to bring that local part of tourism to the tourists,” she said. “I hope we can still continue the tradition of bringing them something authentic and packaged locally—unlike anywhere they’ve ever been before.”

Construction continued at Crafts Alive Village into November.

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