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Charlotte Amalie
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@Work: Small Wonder

June 8, 2007 — Last summer when retail space opened up at Gallows Bay in the Merill Lynch building, Peyton Bryant opted to open her second Small Wonder children's store.
She decided that having two stores would offer the convenience, parking and selection to allow residents to do business locally instead of going off island or online to shop. Bryant opened her first store, located at 4 Company Street in Christiansted, on Dec. 1, 1978. The second store opened nearly three decades later on Dec. 18, 2006.
Many factors contributed to her becoming a businesswoman on St. Croix, Bryant says. She moved from Louisville, Ky., to St. Croix in 1965 as a new bride. Her husband, Brit, was employed as a law clerk at Young, Isherwood and Marsh in the Pentheny Building in Christiansted.
Bryant recalls her first day on the island. She went to Toby's Interiors to buy towels and Toby Schoyer offered her a job. Bryant went home and told her husband.
"You took it, didn't you?" he said. "Call them back and take it."
"I hadn't even unpacked yet," Bryant replied.
After working at Toby's, she went on to work at Betsey Cantrell's children's store at Mahogany Inn, which later moved to Caravelle Arcade. The owner of Betsey Cantrell's moved to Ireland, and Bryant managed the store until the birth of her son Stewart in 1971.
Bryant says she was not able to find a selection of good quality clothing and toys on St. Croix for her son. She figured with her retail experience she could open a store and fill that need.
Bryant had been thinking of a number of different names for the store, and Small Wonder just popped into her head, she says: "Every child is a small wonder and a miracle."
It was an immediate hit.
"There was overwhelming support and excitement at the opening," Bryant says. "We started from the beginning with a lot of good customers. Others saw the need for quality children's items. It was a good thing I had a lot of stock — otherwise I would have run out of merchandise in the first few weeks."
Before the days of the Internet and overnight package delivery, options were limited.
"In those days, merchandise was only shipped here via the post office," Bryant says. "I still use the post office, because they have the best prices."
From the early days of operation, Bryant fondly recalls having blue satin superhero capes that were very popular with the children. The only time the store ever closed was in 1989 for several weeks after Hurricane Hugo, but Bryant was there daily sitting on the porch ready to open in case anyone needed anything. She is thankful she didn't have a problem with looters and just had minor water damage.
After seeing first hand the need of hurricane victims, Bryant has started helping other victims by sending huge boxes of children's clothing down island. In past years she has also had clothing modeled in The St. George Botanical Garden's fundraising fashion show.
"It was a horrendous time for everyone," Bryant says. "The devastation was very sad. There was nobody in charge, people were desperate and it was frightening being without power and in darkness. The power was restored in town before outlying areas so businesses could get back to normal."
Bryant now sees the children she dressed when she first opened her store as adults with children of their own. The parents that came in at the beginning are now grandparents buying for their grandkids.
"It has been fun seeing the kids grow up, and it's pretty amazing seeing them with children of their own," she says. "They remember the items they purchased and tell of how they were passed on to other kids."
Carrying quality merchandise helps give her store its legacy.
"I feel clothing should last, so I stock only the best made items of good quality fabrics that wash and wear well, so it can be handed down," Bryant says.
She also sees the same tourists return to the store year after year, some from major cities telling her they can't find stores like Small Wonder at home. There was a long tradition on St. Croix going back to the 1950s and '60s when tourists with money looked for classic, high-quality goods to buy from Europe and abroad to take back to the States.
A lot of locals became accustomed to shopping in those stores, too, and they still look for good quality things.
That tradition is carried on at Small Wonder with classic linen shirts, shorts, slacks and dresses. Bryant also has clothing made of 100-percent cotton that is hand embroidered or smocked. The store on Company Street has boys clothing sized preemie to 20 and girls sizes up to 16. At the Gallows Bay store, they fit preemie to seven for boys and girls up to size 6x.
In addition to clothing, both stores carry wooden toys by Brio and Plan Toys. Nearly all children's needs can be found at the stores, from dressy to casual clothes, accessories and much more. The stores also do gift registration for baby showers.
For store hours, call the Gallows Bay store at 719-2866 or the Christiansted town store at 773-5551.
"I just love the business I'm in, and I enjoy my customers so much I'll probably work until I drop, although I would like some time to read and travel," Bryant says.
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