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@Work: De Culture Lounge

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Feb. 04, 2007 — The west end of St. Croix is jumping again, thanks to three young entrepreneurs looking for a spot to chill at the end of the day.
"We wanted to have somewhere to hang out after work," says De Culture Lounge co-owner Alexis Doward. "We held a few events and got branded a nightclub."
The concept for the lounge began as a beach party hosted by a second co-owner, Gregory Richards. Doward and the third co-owner, Anita Nibbs, helped Richards organize his annual New Year's Day beach party.
Nibbs and Doward had already joined together to create L.E. Ex. Corp., a company designed to gather young minds together and invest in each other's ideas. The partnership with Richards was simple, they say, because of their more than six-year friendship. All three owners hold upper-level management positions at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Doward is the acting director of building permits, Nibbs is head of the water pollution control program for the territory and Richards is the territorial submerged lands coordinator.
Even without the added traffic and revenue tourists can bring, the De Culture Lounge owners have had many international celebrities and promoters in the club they built with their own hands. Doward speaks fondly about meeting the Temptations. "We had them singing for beer," he says. "We'd give them a beer and they'd sing a song."
The walls of the lounge are plastered with signatures from a who's who of V.I. reggae artists and DJs from across the Caribbean. Many DJs got their start at their club, Doward says. "In the DJ world, De Culture Lounge is the main stage," he says. "A lot of people got their start on our table."
The trio designed the club to showcase local talent and give them a venue to hold their events. "We don't plan events," Doward says. "The promoters come to us."
The owners are essential in making sure the events run smoothly. They do whatever it takes to ensure a memorable night for all their guests.
"We've slept here," Nibbs says, adding that she has no problem helping promoters gather the necessities for their shows. "I like when promoters ask questions," she says. "They can take advantage of the fact that I am willing to help them a little bit."
The decision to open the lounge came with much sacrifice, Doward says: "We all took personal loans against our retirement plans." Other sacrifices included taking lunch to work rather than eating out and personally completing 90 percent of the renovations of the abandoned building that would eventually be their club.
The obstacles kept coming as the trio came across many property owners who were reluctant to rent to them. "We tried to get places that were already built, but no one would give it to us because we were young," Doward says.
The success of the lounge, he says, has awarded them the ability to receive financing for other ventures they were not able to have before. And the spirit seems to have spread: Doward says he has heard of many young entrepreneurs taking risks on businesses because of the success he and his partners have had with the club.
Since the initial sacrifices to get the club opened, the owners have continued to sacrifice to keep it open. According to Doward, the struggle to keep the club running is directly related to the island's economy. "We had different expectations when we opened the club," Doward says. "We assumed the pier would be open."
The failing economy is a serious threat, Doward says: "De Culture Lounge is something we did for the people. We'd love for it to pay for itself and survive on its own." Because of the economic difficulties, Nibbs says, the lounge may have to close, allowing the business owners to "transition" into other ventures.
Reviews of their events from fans over the radio have made a lot of the sacrifices worthwhile, Nibbs says. "They can see we work really hard," she says. "I am grateful that it is not in vain." But the trio says none of their success would be possible without the help of friends, regular customers and their mothers. "Our mothers have gone above and beyond to do things to help us," Nibbs says. "We've had friends create events for us."
Risks and sacrifices are the norm in any business venture, she says: "You gotta take risks to make money." The biggest challenge for any new business, Nibbs says, is planning and advertising. She admits knowing nothing about the club business before they opened, but says research and proper planning proved the key to their success.
New business owners must plan correctly for advertising expenses, Nibbs says. "The advertising budget is the biggest challenge in business," she says.
De Culture Lounge is located at 8 B King Street in Frederiksted and open daily after 6 p.m. For more information on events, the owners request you stop by the lounge.
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