Nov. 4, 2004 Craig Dengler's midlife crisis led him in 1999 to buy Cruz Bay Photo, located at Wharfside Village on St. John.
"I was burnt out," he said, beginning a tale that went from the snowy winters of his native Rochester, N.Y., to the sunny clime of the Caribbean.
Dengler, now 53, opened a health club in Rochester after graduating with a bachelor's degree in business administration from Nichols College in Dudley, Mass. It turned into a 22-year endeavor that provided what he called "the yuppie life," complete with a Porsche and a wife. Alas, his wife left him, his father died and he wanted a major change in his life.
After selling his health club, he turned to real estate, but that didn't quite hit the mark.
"I was at a crossroads," he said.
The Caribbean beckoned. He had visited St. Croix and St. Maarten several times, but never St. John.
He'd heard about St. John's small-town atmosphere, the fact that V.I. National Park was big player in the island's ambience and that the U.S. flag flew overhead.
He called Holiday Homes real estate to find out what was for sale, learned that Cruz Bay Photo was on the market, and decided to see for himself if St. John was for him.
"I said, 'this feels good. I could make a home here,'" Dengler recalled.
He want back to Rochester, packed up his stuff and returned with a suitcase, his dive bag and "some hopes and dreams."
Keeping Cruz Bay Photo afloat has not always been easy. He had to update equipment and build a reputation. A dying bookstore occupied the front half of the store, and he faced a rapidly changing market as the photography world moves to digital.
But the bookstore closed and he bought new processing equipment. He recently installed a machine that allows customers to download their digital photos to disk or to print them out.
He expanded his inventory to include items like binoculars and top-quality sunglasses, but, in a small market like St. John, it's always difficult to bring customers in the door.
Dengler instead focuses on service. One-hour developing is done on time, and if you have a camera problem, he'll see what he can do to help.
"And you can buy a roll of film anywhere, but it might not be fresh," he pointed out.
Dengler likes his independence, joking that he's not qualified to do anything but own his own business.
"If you're not making it, it's your own bloody fault," he said.
He also enjoys a lifestyle without much of an emphasis on material things. Unlike Rochester with its ever so long winters, he doesn't suffer from light depravation in St. John, and he occasionally gets a chance to enjoy the island's natural attributes.
"It's not the rat race," he said, summing up his St. John life.
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