Home Business St. Thomas business @Work: Comfort Zone

@Work: Comfort Zone


Oct. 2, 2005 – Re-opening its doors Saturday at a new Red Hook location, the Comfort Zone has every good smelling, self indulgent thing a woman—and man—could want. This includes everything from confetti which turns into bubble bath when it's in water, to eucalyptus shaving cream—even body oil created to mimic your favorite perfume or cologne!
"It's just like the name implies," Ava Penn, owner said. "I've tried to make a store which encompasses the mood of the home, bath, and body."
Penn said she first got the idea in early 1996, when studying for her Masters degree at the University of the Virgin Islands. "I always wanted to open my own business," Penn said. "But I didn't know what to do."
While contemplating her options, however, Penn discovered the lack of bath and body stores in the territory and knew exactly what to do. "The only thing we had like this at that time were the little beauty sections in Kmart or Woolworth," Penn said. "But when you go to the states, you see them everywhere, chains like the Body Shop, or those other kind of stores. So this is the kind of business I decided to open."
Subsequently, Penn began to take notes on how these businesses ran in the states, and attended home shows to find out what products were new on the market. "I wanted to find products that no one else had," Penn said. "I wanted original, fresh lines and these shows helped me to see what kind of things I could bring down here." In addition, Penn also solicited soap and other bath products from local vendors.
Penn explained she then found a place to open the store, which was first located in Port of Sale Mall. "It was just opening, and it catered both to tourists and locals," Penn said. "I thought I would give it a shot, so the Comfort Zone opened there in 1998."
Unfortunately, at the time, the business did not materialize the way Penn imagined. In addition to high rent prices, Penn said the surrounding businesses never had products to compliment what she sold.
"I also had another full time job, so spending time at the store was definitely a juggling act," Penn said, adding she has worked at the Legislature since 1993. "Even now, I stick to nights and weekends." Indeed, to keep things going, Penn said her family helped out with the business a lot—in particular, her mother, Natalie Penn.
"There are people who still don't know that I own the store," Penn joked. "They're so used to seeing my mom."
After deciding to close the store at Port of Sale, Penn said she then began to scout around for a more favorable location. She ended up at American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook.
"I really saw this as a new start for me," Penn said. "It was a bigger store, a better retail environment, and it's a great area—both business and residential."
Penn added she is also able to catch tourists going to and coming from St. John. "More people tend to shop here," Penn said. "And there's going to be a lot of development soon which will also bring more people around."
Taking advantage of her larger environment, Penn said she has been planning to utilize every inch of the space she has. Indeed, while she is currently stocked with various fragrances, body lotions, powders, candles, and other such products, the keen visitor is able to see other things beginning to develop in all corners.
Partially closed off at one end of the store, for example, is a small nook which will eventually accommodate bed linens, bath robes, slippers, and still more home furnishings.
Penn also has glassware – candle holders, lamps, vases – in another spot, as well as manicure and pedicure kits, shaving sets for men, clocks, and all kinds of exfoliates.
In the middle of the store are also stations for incense, and a Crabtree and Evelyn line of stationary. "I'm the only Crabtree and Evelyn vendor in St. Thomas," Penn said, as she sniffed a bottle of the brand's wisteria fragrance. "This is my favorite," she added, saying that the stationary line will be one of the first things in the store to expand.
"I also plan on getting the business up online," Penn said. "That way, people can see what I have before they visit, or even place orders."
Penn revealed she also has a few surprises up her sleeves. "There's a lot I want to do with the business. I feel that it's going to grow, and while I'm nervous, I'm also excited to see what happens."
While "unofficially" open on Saturday, Penn said she will also have a grand opening celebration later this month. However, she did provide a little something special for this weekend—a sale on various products throughout the store for the month of October.
"Just a little incentive to get people here," Penn said. "I'm really happy to be back."
The Comfort Zone, located in American Yacht Harbor next to East End Café, is opened Monday- Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. For more information call Penn at (340) 776-4220.

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