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Businesses, Browsers, and Bow Wow-ers Out in Full Force for Chamber Expo

Oct. 23, 2005 — A bounty of the territory's riches — ranging from Chihuahua puppies, chocolate chip cookies and locally made sauces and candles, to local art, sophisticated communications systems, super deals on Hondas, banking opportunities, computer technology, designer bags, shoes, and marketing or chiropractic services — were on display this weekend at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.
Making her first foray into the networking world that is the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce Business Expo 2005, Claire Ochoa, owner of St. Thomas gallery, was overwhelmed at the myriad exhibits.
"Look at all this," she said. "It's excellent. You can get information on some great opportunities. I know of some of these businesses, and I mean to go and visit them, but I never have the time."
Ochoa exhibited several of her artists, including water colors from well-known artist Lucinda Shut and newcomer Teri Jones.
Exposure, of course, is at the heart of the annual shows. Joe Aubain, chamber executive director, was pleased with the weekend's turnout so far. "In light of everything, the rains and the tourism conference, we had about 1,000 visitors between Friday night's Business After Hours and all day Saturday."
What is important, Aubain said, is what the exhibitors think. "They were extremely enthusiastic about the exposure they have been getting, "he said, "and the opportunity to show what they can do and how to make it happen."
Despite the umbrellas in some of the visitor's hands Saturday, there was nothing dampened about anyone's spirits. The huge sports complex was buzzing with activity as the visitors and the exhibitors wandered from one venue to another, exchanging information, and making sales and contacts.
Dr. Brad Kappel looked up from his display of rapidly degenerating vertebra. "You want yours to look like this first one," he explained, taking one of the plastic replicas in hand. The others, indeed, looked a sorry lot. "Here," Kappel said, "take this posture test." The doctor said if you answered "yes" to any of the 14 questions, it's time to pay him a visit at his new offices in the Caribbean Chiropractic Center in Tutu.
Across the way Choice Communications had a booth manned by Kevin Hughes, sales manager, and a few representatives sitting at their laptops. Choice, formerly VIAccess, was demonstrating its new wireless internet service ChoiceNetJet, powered by DSL technology. "Come in," Hughes said, "let us show you what we are offering."
For Internet service alone, the expo was bursting with choices. It is a highly competitive field. Across from Choice, competitor Innovative was busy trying to attract potential customers to its PowerNet, telephone and cable services.
Ackley Communications, one of the event's sponsors, was touting its new TalkVI, the territory's first voice-over IP service, which is a new way to make phone calls over the Internet. And further down another busy aisle, Comtek (Communications Technologies) was promoting an introductory offer on its wireless Internet service.
JoAnn Buono, Comtek director of Caribbean Sales, stated some of the company achievements, though they have been in the territory for just two and a half years. "We haven't lost one customer in the last year," Buono said, "That's pretty amazing. And, we have not lost conductivity."
Losing an Internet connection with the dial-up services is a critical problem, subject as they are to phone lines.
Wafting from the next aisle comes an aroma having nothing to do with electronics — it's cookies, chocolate chip cookies. Two young Charlotte Amalie High School students are busily taking the cookies out of a portable oven.
Adorned in perky blue and white aprons, Veronique McFarlane and Krytal Brin are raising funds for the Future Business Leaders of America. "We raise money to travel and meet with other chapters of the organization, where we share ideas and listen to business speakers," McFarlane said. "And we're selling a lot, too," adds Brin. The cookies were going like, well like hot-cakes, at $1 each.
St. Thomas activist and candle maker Jason Budsan had his colorful array situated across from the cookie makers. Budsan looks like he just stepped out of a bandbox, though he says he has been out all morning weed-wacking for a community project.
Some of the candles, which Budsan has been making for 11 years, are set in conch shells, and all are hand-crafted. He sells them at Tillet Gardens where several artisans have studios where they craft their products. A St. Thomas native, Budsan calls his wares, the "Frenchie Connection."
He saw a likely prospect walking by, wearing a Choice Communications name tag reading Jasmine Thomas. "Jasmine," he says. "How would you like some Night Jasmine?" He held out a scented candle, and Thomas appeared intrigued.
And there are the puppies. The Humane Society of St. Thomas had a display featuring lots of animals, some are stuffed, but five are alive. "We brought five from the shelter this morning," smiles Barbara Prescott, "and three have already been adopted."
The puppies are light tan Chihuahua mixes, almost small enough to fit in your hand, and they are surrounded by youngsters anxious to gather them up close. Each year the shelter brings animals, and each year almost all the animals find adoring families to take them home. The timing is fortuitous as October is Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month.
Walking away from the puppies, 9-year-old Tristan Miller, a Montessori School fourth-grader was selling to one and all. "Here," he said, "let me show you this electronic coloring book. It comes with software, and I can show you how to set it up. It's easy." Miller proceeds to illustrate how to operate the device. He was joined by his mother, Montessori teacher, Sue Miller, and several classmates.
"It's for a good cause," Tristan stated. "It's for the school, but it's also for the Sea View Nursing Home adolescent unit."
Up the way a bit, John Jowers, 32-year V.I. Council on the Arts administrator, was showing some St. Croix art. Hanging from a white Christmas tree were dozens of brightly decorated glass ornaments by Jan Mitchell. "I thought St. Croix should have a voice and Jan's pieces are exquisite," Jowers said. The ornaments boast bright clear colors. There are Christmas trees, underwater creatures, iguanas, and Santa mocko jumbies.
With a nod to St. Thomas, Jowers also had Frenchtown prints of the late artist Mitzi Henne.
There were more displays, including Banco Popular, FirstBank, and ScotiaBank, which was getting a lot of the trade with its free popcorn crackling away in an old-fashioned popcorn machine.
Outside the entrance, Community Motors had four shiny cars lined up, and the company was offering tempting deals – one $7,000 off – which the salesman said sold Friday night.
As expo-goers entered and excited the complex, they heard a familiar voice. Sportscaster Buddy Kennings, of Radio One WVWI was conducting his noontime "Really Big Sports Show."
The three-day event kicked off at 5:30 p.m. Friday with a special chamber Business After Hours sponsored by The West Indian Co. Ltd. Other Expo sponsors include: welcome bag sponsor First Bank Virgin Islands; reception sponsor Communications Technology Inc., and Gold Sponsors: Ackley Communications, Caribbean Business News and Guardian Insurance.
The event concluded at 4 p.m. Sunday.

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