Jan. 11, 2005 – As the Bonanno brothers walk through the rooms of the paint store their father built from the ground up, their footsteps echo. Shelves holding paint cans that once reached the ceiling have been removed. A second level storage area is empty.
"We're down to the nitty gritty," says Charles Bonanno.
Dusty imprints and shrink wrapped boxes of supplies remain in the storage area, and a few odds and ends that will be put out at a steep discount. Bonanno and his brother Michael are the vice president and manager of Mike's Paint Store, which will be closing soon after 27 years in business.
Their father, Mario Bonanno, better known as Mr. Mike, was president of the company until he died in June of last year at age 87. The brothers have been running the shop for the past 20 years, having taken over the operation when their father became too sick to do it on his own. Mario suffered several heart attacks and his doctors said, "If you work, you die," says Bonanno. "He took it to heart. As soon as I got out of the service I came here and started work the next day."
The elder Bonanno was a certified master painter and a certified master wall paper hanger in New York City. He came to the Virgin Islands for his health in the early 60s. "St. Thomas was just getting on its feet. It was a boom town and he boomed with it," says Bonanno.
He became one of the first private contractors on the island, distinguishing his crew from the rest by making them wear uniforms for commercial and government work.
Bonanno opened the store in the late 70s and quickly outgrew the original location. He bought some land from the Tillett family on the edge of Tillett Gardens, and designed his ideal paint store.
Over the years the store has seen success. When big name paint stores moved onto the island, the Bonannos never blinked an eye. "No single store ever bothered us," Bonanno says. "Our thing was matching colors. When every other store on the island gave up, we could match the color."
The store was also the exclusive Benjamin-Moore retailer on St. Thomas and St. John for the past 25 years.
"We tried to do two things (when closing). Number one, not take Benjamin-Moore away from the Virgin Islands. Number two, we didn't want to leave our crew in the lurch. It would be a shame for their skills to go down the drain," says Bonanno.
Bonanno found what he was looking for in Mike Perron, owner of The Paint Depot. Perron purchased the bulk of Mike's Paint Store's inventory, assumed the Benjamin-Moore contract, and even hired two of Bonanno's employees.
"It takes years to train someone, this isn't flipping burgers," says Bonanno. "When I hired someone, I wouldn't turn my back on them for a full year. It's a highly skilled job. You do your best to keep people on your crew."
The brothers started liquidating their inventory more than a month ago, but there are still some paint cans lining the walls, as well as brushes, rollers, scrapers, caulking tools, and other miscellaneous items, all marked down to half price. They'll close for good when most of it is gone.
"It takes as much time to open a store as close a store. It took us six months to open it," says Bonanno. As for the building, that's also for sale, listed with Sutter and Associates.
Bonanno walks through the store and talks without sentiment about what it might become in the future. "Could be a discotheque, a clothing store, could be a Taco Bell for all I know."
For now, and until the last paint brush is sold, he'll be behind the counter greeting customers, and listening to their well wishes.
"Sorry to see you go," says one customer for whom the Bonanno's have been matching paint for years.
"We all go one way or another," answers Bonanno.
"How long have you been in business here?" asks the customer. The answer is 27 years.
"We've been happy here in for a long time. It's time to say sayonara."
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