"Vince" 9 inches by 12 inches; ink on paper, $125
At the time, we lived in an enormous loft in Williamsburg before it became trendy. It was not my property, but the landlord rented it out to me because he knew that I was going to fix it up. We rented out the loft to tenants but we could never get ahead because as soon as we started to make some money, the landlord raised our rents. So, when my mother made us this offer it looked pretty good and we moved to St. Thomas.
When I got here I started working for my cousin doing architectural work. My wife was living with my family on the north side and finding it hard to fit in. I told Ellen, “Go open a gallery downtown in Charlotte Amalie, we are artists, go open a gallery to sell our work.” She had a lot of doubts, the properties were so expensive, but I encouraged her to go look in the little alley ways.
She went down there and she found a little place, finds a nice Italian lady from Staten Island who owned it. Ellen was so excited about finding something. Then I tell her we have to haggle the rent. She didn’t want to, she was afraid of losing the place. I called one of my friends who owns a gallery here and asked her if we could haggle. “Sure,” she said, and that saved us five hundred dollars a month. That was the start of our business down here. We went in and everyone said, “They won’t do well, they will be out of there in three months.”
We went in and had all this original art in this small space. We had to get smart fast because we knew selling original art just wasn’t going to pay the bills, so we got into the print business. We started studying all the other artists that were selling their work as prints. I had connections back in New York, The Working Artists Coalition. I met some very strong people there and one of them was a guy who sold machines and inks for Epson printers. He advised me what to do and I got a printer, started taking pictures of our work and started printing. That was our bread and butter. We made a lot of money doing that.
During this time, we were living on the North side and we decided we wanted to move into Charlotte Amalie to be closer to the gallery. Then Charlotte Amalie was just like Williamsburg, New York. It was like an unloved area and the buildings were very, very affordable. So, we began to put some bids on buildings.
We found this building here next to the synagogue and we thought it was better to be in a more affluent area, although it really wasn’t that affluent. We bought the building and began to fix it up. We had to deal with contractors and we had to find a bank who would give us money. It was a real challenge to find people who would believe in our vision. Everyone told us we were going to be shot, but I said “No way, if I could survive Williamsburg, I could survive this St. Thomas neighborhood.”
There were a lot of gun shots and a lot of things happening here, it was pretty crazy. But we did it. And now the area has seen tons of improvement. We are very proud to have been a part of that.