Written by: Chrissann
Life in the islands has managed to instill some embarrassing hoarding tendencies in me. I never used to feel the need to stockpile everyday items, but now that I know they’re not available at the ready should I run out, I can’t help but buy things like shave cream in shameful quantities as though I’m preparing for the End of Days. We all have our little crazy secrets. A storeroom, stocked like my own personal drugstore, is mine.
The general stores in the British Virgin Islands leave much to be desired. While they do cover the most basic of basics, I am unable to find most anything in my arsenal of preferred personal care products locally. Granted, I can be a tad high-maintenance when it comes to the things I use on my body, so some of it is more of a matter of preference than availability. I made the switch to natural makeup and toiletries years ago and refuse to go back to a chemically-laden existence for mere convenience alone.
Over the years, I have become quite an adept importer. We maintain forwarding addresses in both the US Virgin Islands and Florida for all of the companies who do not ship here (which is to say, most all of them). For the life of me, I can’t figure out how some companies can have shipping options set-up for someplace like Uzbekistan but refuse to include our much more westernized country on their list. Seriously – who in Uzbekistan is shipping in organic deodorant? I really do want to know.
No matter. After much research on FAQ pages and mind-numbing phone time spent with apathetic customer service reps, it’s a non-issue. I am now able to find everything I need online. To all those who bemoan their inability to get stuff here – you’re simply not trying hard enough, my friend. I ship in vitamins, toucan toys, face creams, mineral makeup, mints/gum, protein powder, teas, toothpaste – you name it. And I’m not alone – I know a woman who even ships in tampons because she can’t find her brand here. Some things are just not worth the compromise.
Even still, I much prefer to buy locally when I can. It’s much easier to get the item in hand instead of waiting weeks for it to arrive, and it is also nice to bypass all of the exorbitant shipping charges and Custom’s fees* we have to pay on most anything we import.
*Random bitter side note: The whole Custom’s thing is a major peeve of mine. I can understand if the item was available here and I was still carelessly shipping it in – fine, charge me all you want – but when I ship in something the country refuses to make available to me, is it so wrong that I feel I shouldn’t be charged? Is it?? End rant.
If you prefer to buy locally, there is one island shopping rule that most newbies eventually figure out: when you do find whatever it is you want actually available here, BUY IT ALL. If your favorite brand of shampoo magically appears at your grocery store, ask the manager for the case and consider yourself lucky. Savvy island residents know that just because something appears in your store once, doesn’t mean you will ever see it again. Even if you think you don’t need it now, just grab it all up or live to regret it. I once purchased an obscene amount of almond milk; finding storage space for it was a predicament, but there’s nothing like the satisfaction of knowing that the Kashi cereal I also found in bulk months before will be completely covered for the year.
But before you get too at ease with this concept, I must warn you: because we are in the islands, a one-off rule such as this cannot always be counted on…
A year or so ago, a friend of a friend was delighted to find his local grocer had started carrying his favorite energy bars. He hadn’t had them since he was stateside and all-to-familiar with the island shopping rule, he snatched up all four boxes on the shelf without hesitation. His excitement continued when he found more the following week, again buying up every box available. This continued over the next month and experiencing a false sense of security that the store would now be regularly stocking his cherished bars, he munched away with abandon, going so far as to even give some away to friends. Once his supply dwindled, he visited the store to re-stock but the bars were nowhere to be found. In their place was another less desirable brand. He checked back week after week, but his bars had officially disappeared.
One day, he finally got the opportunity to speak with the store manager responsible for purchasing. He inquired about the bars, asking if/when they would be ordered again.
After some back and forth descriptions, the store manager was able to remember the brand.
“Oh, those? Yeah, we couldn’t keep those on the shelves. Too much hassle. We had to stop ordering them.”
“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” said the Cat.
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”