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@Work: Verace

July 2, 2007 — When St. John visitors began to shift from campers to folks spending big bucks for stays in high-end villas, Luigi Costello jumped on the trend and opened Verace jewelry store in Wharfside Village.
"It's not just backpackers and Cinnamon Bay anymore," he says of St. John visitors.
Those folks still come, but so do lots of people who want to buy expensive designer jewelry, he says. Costello carries works by numerous well-known designers, including Toby Pomeroy, Kent Ruible, Eddie Rosenberg, Chi Galatea, Steven Douglas and Pat Murphy, to name just a few.
Bowing to customer demand, he also carries basic pieces like diamond-stud earrings and wedding bands.
Verace was recently named Best Designer Retailer of the Year at the JCK Show in Las Vegas, a leading jewelry-industry event. The winner is chosen by editors, designers and retailers in the jewelry industry.
Costello isn't aiming for Tiffany's, though, and he said he and his sales staff don't "size up" people like they do at one of New York's more expensive jewelers.
"You never know who's walking in," he says, adding that clothes don't tell the story for many well-heeled people.
Costello opened Verace in 1997. He started out on the St. John retail scene in 1988 with Freebird Creations. He also opened Moda, a women's clothing store, in 1997, but sold both Freebird and Moda in 2000 to focus on Verace.
While both stores were successful, he just couldn't find enough good people to serve as staff, Costello says.
With three people and himself working at Verace, the business is very successful, he says. He counts on Tracy Thompson, Kim Jackson and Juli Simeck to keep things running smoothly.
However, he noted that sales were down a bit this past winter.
"The winter season was good, but I wouldn't call it phenomenal," he says.
The seasonal downturn resulted from a shortage of rooms, thanks to construction projects at the Westin Resort and Villas and the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas, Costello says.
Additionally, he says, construction in and around Cruz Bay — coupled with a frustrating parking problem — kept people away.
Costello, 51, first arrived on St. John in the mid-1980s to look at real estate with a friend. One thing led to another, and the next thing he knew he was the first tenant at the newly built Wharfside Village.
He was born in Philadelphia, spent some time nearby in New Jersey, moved to northern Florida and then on to Key West.
"A lot of things started changing," he says of Key West.
After 10 years, he was ready to move on and St. John beckoned. He says he'd like to open another jewelry store, but on the mainland.
Meanwhile, Costello is busy with Verace and his son, Luca, 6.
"This is the most important phone call of the day," he says, answering a cell phone call from Luca.
To see some of the collection, go to verace.com. For more information, call the store at 693-7599.

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