| Roadtown Wholesale -
In the Beginning
By Penny Haycraft
Peter and I started our life together in Tortola at the beginning of 1960. We were newly married, loved the island, and almost from the start were thinking of ways we could make our lives here without having to run a ferry to St. Thomas and back every day. This was the contract Peter had signed for two years. We were not short of ideas, what we were short of was cash remember, in 1961 there wasnt a bank in Tortola and we had no assets apart from youth and enthusiasm.
Neither were we encouraged, when, after applying to a reputable bank
in the UK for backing we received the following reply:
In a letter to another bank dated August 1960, Peter mentioned that with
one hundred vehicles on the island, and the prospect of made-up
roads, there is opportunity for a gas station and a car dealership. Once
again, they didnt want to know as seen from this response.
I recently came across the outline for another project: an inter-island
passenger cargo service, using a 31 Southampton Trinity House Pilots
boarding launch with proposed fares of $1.50 Virgin Gorda to Roadtown,
$1.00 East End to Road Town (remember there was scarecely a road, and
certainly few vehicles in 1960), and only $3.50 to Anegada. It was hoped
the vessel would carry farm produce, and also fish, lobster, etc. In addition
to this we hoped to have a fast launch for charter work and also sail
boats. No one was in the charter business yet.
With the help of good BVI friends and the indulgence of the Virgin Islands National Bank in St. Thomas we were ready to start business. Needless to say, most items were canned, and included Garden Peas, Mixed Vegetables, Cauliflower (whole) and Cauliflower (pieces), carrots, tomato paste, of course soups, a wide variety of canned fruits, and of course Pet Milk. Probably the most important agency at the beginning was Pet/Carnation. Every baby in the BVI was given Pet Milk!
Goods had been ordered, were on their way, but where could we store them? Suitable property was in short supply and we could hardly sell out of our sitting room. We were renting a small house in what is now Lower Estate. Peter finally secured a room at the back of Little Denmark, a tiny gift shop in 1961 and with a laundry next door. That first shipment, 25 cases of Pet Milk did not reach the store. The milk was sold off the dock and I can still recall Peter coming home and pulling dollar bills out of his pocket. It was a joyful moment as we were in business!
Peter used that little storeroom for some time before moving to bigger premises on upper Main Street, renting from Bobops. He was always willing to deliver, but the only vehicle we could afford was a Vespa motor scooter, and he suffered serious injuries to his knees when the brakes failed coming down the little road where Roti Palace is today with a case of milk between his legs, and had to throw himself to the ground in order to avoid hitting some school children. When you are in your twenties, you tend not to think ahead even ten years, never mind forty, but never in our wildest dreams could we have anticipated what the future would be for that tiny company started in 1961, Roadtown Wholesale Trading Ltd.
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