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@Work: Sombrero Publishing

Oct. 19, 2008 — Sombrero Publishing is out with a new book, a coffee table volume titled "St. Thomas." The book has its roots in Sombrero Publishing's previous books about St. John that used photos by local photographers. When owner Gerald Singer saw what top-quality photos he had for those books, he knew he'd get equally nice ones for a St. Thomas book.
"You really forget how beautiful St. Thomas is," Singer said.
"St. Thomas" features photos by acclaimed St. Thomas photographer Don Hebert as well as others, and text by Singer. It includes a snippet on the late Isidore Paiewonsky, the scion of the A.H. Riise empire who died in 2004. There's also a photo of then-President Bill Clinton playing golf at Mahogany Run golf course and a slew of photos of the island's flora, fauna and historical sites.
Singer's publishing house had its start in 1994 with "St. John Beach Guide," now in its third printing. He was renting out his villa at Chocolate Hole, and decided to put together information on St. John's beaches for his guests.
"By the time it was halfway done, I said, 'This is a book,'" Singer said.
Singer has updated his "St. John Off the Beaten Track," first issued in 1996, to include lots of color photos to help you find your way. This book is especially valuable for even old St. John hands who want to see some new sights. Look for a photo of Robert Oppenheimer on page 231. The father of the atomic bomb had a house at Hawksnest Beach.
His "St. John Beach Guide" has photos and words about 15 of the island's most accessible beaches. It features photos by Hebert and renowned St. John photographer Steve Simonsen.
Sombrero Publishing also put out "Tales of St. John," a collection of short stories about St. John and other islands.
Vieques fans will enjoy that eponymous coffee-table book as well as "US. Mail," by Pedro Juan Soto. It's translated from Spanish and is the story of life on the small Puerto Rican island during the 1930s, '40s and '50s.
Singer currently isn't publishing any books by other authors and photographers, but he hasn't ruled it out. He's also launched a couple of websites.
He arrived on St. John back in 1969 because he couldn't decide what he wanted to do with his life. A native of Cambridge, Mass., he grew up in New York City and in nearby Westchester County, and graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He said that was a degree that wasn't going to get him anywhere unless he wanted a career as a psychologist.
Singer didn't, so his father, a dentist in the Bronx, suggested he visit one of his patients who had a house on St. Thomas.
"I got off the plane. The Caribbean air, oh man, it was just beautiful," he said.
He fell in love with the water and with boats. After a trip back to the States he returned to the territory and took up commercial fishing. He met the late John Gibney and they began making their own fish traps and selling the fish on the Cruz Bay dock, at restaurants and in neighborhoods around St. John.
After another hiatus in the States he returned to build a house at Klein Bay.
Unfortunately, he said with a laugh, "I didn't have enough money to live in it." So he built a cottage alongside it and started renting the big house out as a vacation villa. Meanwhile, he also ran adventure tours to Jost Van Dyke and Tortola, an endeavor that helped him renew his enthusiasm for the Virgin Islands every day.
"When you do that, you get the excitement of the people," he said.
Singer, 62, is still excited about St. John. He and his wife, Habiba Hussein, are raising their son, Jacob, 3, on the island. Singer also has three other children, Sean, 40, Natasha, 36, and Ross, 33, as well as four grandchildren.
He credits his wife's business expertise with making Sombrero Publishing profitable.
"The biggest challenge is making money so you can pay for your lifestyle," he said.
To order the books, visit stjohnbeachguide.com
and click on "bookstore." They're also available at online retailers such as Amazon and several Internet travel forums.
On St. John, they're available at, among other places, the V.I. National Park bookstore, Maho Bay Camps, Caneel Bay Resort gift shop, and Wicker Wood and Shells.
On St. Thomas, find them at the University of the Virgin Islands bookstore, Mango Tango Gallery, Draughting Shaft, and Dockside Books.
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