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St. Thomas: The Caribbean Capital of Duty Free Buys



St. Thomas has a long history of trading and commerce, dating back to colonial times and the Danish West India Company. It upholds today a long tradition as one of the Caribbean’s first duty free ports since 1724. Here buyers find bargains on all manner of luxury items, but mostly jewelry. Most stores target cruise ship passengers that come for the day to shop for diamonds, liquor, perfume, watches, cameras, porcelain and leather goods.

They head first to Havensight Mall, directly adjacent to the cruise ship port and filled with duty free shops. It is a short trip to downtown Charlotte Amalie, where jewelry stores line Main Street. Shoppers can find one of a kind shops and galleries, however, in the alleys and side streets off Main Street and along the waterfront. For an even nicer, more extensive selection of local art and other unique buys, head to Cruz Bay, a short ferry ride away on the island of St. John.

This list compiles the best shopping centers of St. Thomas, plus some select galleries and stores that stand out from the usual brand of jewelry mart. The wise shopper will have done some homework before setting out on the streets of St. Thomas. Compare shop online and at other stores to make sure that a duty free buy truly is a bargain. Because remember, St. Thomas’ heritage also has a few pirates in its closet. 


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Mountain Top
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


High atop St. Peter Mountain sits "the island's largest gift shop," restaurant, bar and observation point with sweeping views of the British Virgin islands. Among the massive inventory you'll find an extensive collection of both fine and costume jewelry, beachwear, hats and footwear. As a bonus, the bar serves up the world-famous banana daiquiri, which is not for the faint-hearted. Repeat visitors to St. Thomas may not recognize this updated version of Mountain Top, which differs considerably from what existed before a devastating fire in 2009. However the drinks and views are still just as good, and the merchandise is somewhat cheaper than what you'll find down the hill.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: Besides an excellent view and tasty banana daiquiris, this massive mart provides a comprehensive one-stop shopping experience.

Chelle's expert tip: Go early or late to avoid the busloads of cruise ship passengers.

Read more about Mountain Top →


Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


Find the work of more than 150 artisans gathered under one roof at this arts and crafts gallery. The goods are constantly changing as the craftspeople create new designs, but popular offerings include hand-carved calabash bowls, spice racks made from locally harvested wood, hand-woven baskets, straw dolls, quilts and crocheted shopping bags. Hand-painted note cards, local music, food items and regional cookbooks are also available. When you shop here, you are really supporting the local community - including the schoolchildren, senior citizens and people with disabilities who are among the artisans. The co-op is located on the downtown waterfront, just opposite Vendor's Plaza and next door to the Welcome Center.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: The co-op offers a superb collection of Caribbean-themed crafts and memorabilia.

Chelle's expert tip: The 19th-century brick building that houses the co-op is the former headquarters of the U.S. District Court in St. Thomas.

Read more about Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative →


Tillett Gardens


Silk-screen artist Jim Tillett and his wife founded Tillett Gardens in 1959 as a screen printing studio and art gallery. Since then it has expanded into a wide- ranging arts and crafts center where local artists and craftsmen make and sell pottery, candles, jewelry, baskets and artisanal food and leather products. Many of the artisans work on-site so you can watch the crafts take shape, and some offer workshops. Tillett Gardens is also home to three restaurants, a music studio (which offers lessons) and the Pistarckle Theater, which stages about plays and musicals throughout the year. The facility also hosts several classical and contemporary musical performances during the island's high season

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: Tillett Gardens offers great one-stop shopping for locally made arts, crafts and jewelry.

Chelle's expert tip: If you decide you REALLY love Tillett Gardens, you can stay there: the on-site guest house (Rhoda's) offers budget rooms for a day or a week.

Read more about Tillett Gardens →


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Camille Pissarro Gallery


Camille Pissarro, one of the most famous impressionist painters of the 19th century, was born in St. Thomas in 1830. The island inspired much of his painting. The building at 14 Main Street, which is now home to his namesake gallery, once housed the family's dry goods business. They lived in the flat upstairs. Several of Pisarro's Caribbean inspired works are on display at the gallery, along with works from about two dozen other artists including Jenine Wesselman, Sylvia Kahn, Lee Coplea, and Jan Dunn. These contemporary works, which are done in oil, watercolor, gauche, rock, sculpture and print, are available for sale.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: A powerful combination of history and art at the Camille Pissaro Gallery captivates visitors.

Chelle's expert tip: Look for prints of one of Pisarro's most famous local paintings, Two Women Chatting by the Sea, circa 1856.

Read more about Camille Pissarro Gallery →


Vendors Plaza

Vendors Plaza is an outdoor marketplace next to Fort Christian and the Legislature building, just at the edge of downtown Charlotte Amalie. Local vendors set up tents and booths to sell an assortment of hats, knockoff designer bags, inexpensive jewelry, t-shirts, sundresses and various cheap trinkets. You can also get your hair braided or buy some west Indian food and ice cream from the food vendors who set up around the perimeter. The plaza is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., mostly on days when cruise ships are in port. Bring cash with you - these are small-time merchants, and few, if any, accept plastic.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: The stalls at Vendor's Plaza offer a quintessentially touristic collection of trinkets, trash and treasure.

Chelle's expert tip: Haggling is okay here, but don't insult the vendors with too low of an offer. Bring cash in small bills.

Read more about Vendors Plaza →


Mango Tango Art Gallery
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


Just outside the hustle and bustle of Charlotte Amalie, this popular, long-standing gallery sells works by local and internationally recognized artists who spend all or part of their time in the Caribbean. In addition to paintings, sculpture and photography, the gallery, which is more than 20 years old, also carries crafts, ceramics, glasswork, textiles, ironwork, wood sculpture and more by the likes of Don Dahlke, Brian Murphy, Dana Wylder and others who have gained world renown. The airy gallery also offers framing services, an impressive selection of historical Caribbean maps and Haitian art.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: Mango Tango carries unique and innovative works by island artists and artisans.

Chelle's expert tip: During monthly art shows December through May the gallery presents the work of emerging artists and the creations of Caribbean artists with international recognition.

Read more about Mango Tango Art Gallery →


Cruz Bay
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


A short ferry ride from either downtown Charlotte Amalie or the island's east end at Red Hook gets you to the docks of St. John, conveniently located in the midst of the island's main town of Cruz Bay, nicknamed the "Love City." Shoppers definitely fall in love with the compact town filled to the brim with charming boutiques, galleries, shops, bars and restaurants. Shopping centers occupy historic buildings or new buildings made to look historic. They include Mongoose Junction, Raintree Court, Wharfside Village and The Marketplace. One-of-a-kind specialty stores sell handmade jewelry, spices and coffee beans, tropical home décor, soaps and candles, beachwear, watercolor paintings and whimsical sculptures.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: The flip side of commercial Charlotte Amalie, Cruz Bay provides an escape to boutique shopping.

Chelle's expert tip: Try Bajo el Sol Gallery for a variety of island talent ranging from oil paintings and pastels to blown glass, ceramics, sculpture and wood works.

Read more about Cruz Bay →


Havensight Mall
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


This mall greets cruise ship passengers who disembark at the West Indian Company dock and is one of the major shopping areas on the island (besides downtown). It encompasses more than 100 duty free and souvenir shops, plus various service providers such as banks and a post office. A number of jewelers have branches here, where you can buy everything from black coral to Austrian crystal to French perfume to Swiss watches at excellent prices. There are also various beachwear shops, an electronics store, a bookstore, a gourmet grocer and a music store. Ancient mahogany trees line the streets, and casual eateries such as the Delly Deck and Senor Frog's provide tasty, inexpensive grub for refueling stops.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: Convenient to the cruise ship port and easily walkable, it is the only shopping some visitors experience.

Chelle's expert tip: Visit the Butterfly Garden in the mall to give the kids a fun break from shopping.

Read more about Havensight Mall →


Charlotte Amalie
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt

Main Street and the waterfront of downtown Charlotte Amalie offer an impressive array of shops catering to cruise ship passengers and resort guests. Everything from an antique store that carries recovered booty to liquor emporiums to chocolate shops line its main avenues and hidden 17th century alleyways, with the majority of stores specializing in jewelry, watches and loose gems. On the side streets and fringes of downtown you'll find popular cafes such as Gladys' Café and Amalia Cafe, plus the Camille Pissaro Gallery, the Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative, and Vendor's Plaza. Sometimes the crass commercialism of downtown Charlotte Amalie can crowd out the charm, but if you duck into a quiet cobbled alleyways, you can still get a sense of the quaint colonial town that once was.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: Main Street Charlotte Amalie is ground zero for gems, jewels and art.

Chelle's expert tip: For authentic local food, hit Gladys' Cafe when hunger pains strike.

Read more about Charlotte Amalie →


Yacht Haven Grande
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


Yacht Haven Grande is an upscale waterfront development that includes a luxury yacht marina, residential condos, restaurants and more than 40 high-end shopping boutiques. You will find lots of pricey designer brands represented here, including Louis Vuitton, Coach, Gucci, BCBG Max Azria and Bulgari. But there are also mid-range chains such as White House Black Market, Bebe, Cache and Aqua Beachwear, plus a beauty salon and non-chain boutiques selling swimwear, children's clothing and sunglasses. Dining options include casual Fat Turtle, Grande Cru for fine dinner, tasty Fresh Bistro and Bad Ass Coffee. During high season there are regularly scheduled outdoor concerts, parties and other special events.

Recommended for St. Thomas' Best Shopping because: Upscale shops and diverse restaurants give this shopping center multi-faceted appeal.

Chelle's expert tip: If you are shopping with kids, drop them off at Kool Kidz to watch a Disney film while you make the rounds.

Read more about Yacht Haven Grande →


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Meet Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton – the Local Expert for Naples, Florida and the Caribbean – has been covering the destination for 30 years. Her top-selling Sarasota, Sanibel Island, and...  More About Chelle

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