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On Island Profile: Rene Servant


Jan. 19, 2007 — For 25 years, Paris native Rene Servant, 81, sold St. John real estate at Islandia, but on Jan. 1 he called it quits.
"Real estate is flat as a pancake," he says, weighing in on the market changes he has seen since he started his second career in 1981.
Several factors have slowed the once-booming real estate market, Servant says. Bad press on the mainland when a Chicago man claimed he was attacked by shovel-wielding youths. High airfares. The government's failure to publicize the fact that visitors don't need a passport to visit.
Servant first got recruited by Islandia owner Inga Hiilivirta And Realtor Cees deGraff at a party. In the early days, he says, his typical customer was a Cinnamon Bay Campground visitor who came on vacation, fell in love with the place and went out looking for a piece of land to buy. Most bought with the intention of moving to St. John someday.
That has all changed, Servant says. He has sold real estate over the phone to people who have never been to St. John.
"It's an investment," he says. "We've become a stock market."
St. John, he says, is well on its way to becoming another Monaco — an enclave for the rich. But the fact that V.I. National Park consumes much of St. John will save the island from overdevelopment, Servant says.
"It's going to be very difficult to ruin St. John ," he says.
Servant and his wife, Mimi, were like the people to whom he sold real estate in his early days on St. John. The couple owned a beauty salon in Washington, D.C., when they traveled to a convention in Puerto Rico. On a day trip to St. John, they decided they wanted to live here eventually. Their son, Christopher, had died at 14 after he was hit by a car. The couple was looking for a new start somewhere else.
Another son, Gaston, lives next door to the Servants. They bought property in the Coral Bay area in 1971 and started building their house in 1974. They moved to St. John permanently in 1978.
"I bought the famous one-way ticket," Servant says, laughing as he tells a universal St. John story.
He and his wife spent the next two years working on the house. When he needed more income, he joined Islandia.
Born in Paris, Servant moved to Washington with his parents at age 1. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps as World War II neared its end, he went to the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in education.
His parents gave him a trip back to France as a graduation present so he could meet his relatives. While there, he decided to learn the hair-dressing trade, and met his wife while in school.
Married for 56 years, Servant has words of wisdom for folks just starting down that path.
"Have traditions," he says.
In the Servant family, a tradition includes eating a candlelight dinner together every night.
A successful businessman who helped develop several subdivisions on St. John, Servant gives credit to his wife.
"Mimi is really the reason I've been successful," he says.
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