The Early Gift Shops

ift Shops are abundant in San Pedro today and if all of them are doing well, it is a sign that the tourism industry is vibrant and growing. We have gift shops with a wide range of souvenirs of Belize, the Caribbean, Central America and even a large quantity of US goods.

Although tourism commenced in San Pedro in the 1960's, the first gift shops did not come into existence until the early 1970's. With only a few tourists strolling along our sandy and grassy streets, there was hardly a need for a gift shop. But tourists are always attracted to the uncommon, the rare, the unique or different item. Genaro Nuņez (deceased) found this out by chance. He had picked up some old bottles in the sea near the beach. They did not have a seam, so he knew they were blown bottles and a tourist passing by offered him 5 US dollars for each one. Boy, was he happy. Then he remembered that while digging in the yard for a well, he had found some bottles too. They also sold like hot cakes. Soon he was asking friends for bottles he could sell and had about 20 at the steps leading to his house. Then he enclosed the little area and displayed his bottles. Ah, yes, there were these glass buoys. Those sold for $20US. Eventually, he added conch shells to his collection. Pretty soon he was polishing turtle shells. Then the shells were processed into bracelets, earrings and wrist watch bands. Then he began shaping black coral into pendants, necklaces and earrings. This gift shop had no name, but by the late 1970's, it moved and expanded to the Barrier Reef Hotel owned by John Bremekamp. This was to be the famous Sea Turtle Gift Shop, still in existence today.

About the same time, Dimas Guerrero Jr., started with his version of a gift shop. He started by spraying T-shirts in psychedelic style with spray paints. Then he went into stencil painting. In time he specialized into creating souvenirs with conch shells, and expanded with a large and lovely collection of black coral items. This was to be D and G's Gift Shop still going strong today mostly with jewelry.

And also about the same time, the famous Habib Hajara, know as Paisano, set foot in San Pedro. He landed here like many Arab merchants who traveled with 2 large suitcases filled with cloth or ready-made pants. Paisano liked San Pedro and decided to stay. He rented a little building and purchased conch and black coral items for re-sale because he was not an artist. In his travels to Guatemala, Paisano bought large assortments of Guatemalan goods for sale at his shop called the San Pedro Gift Shop. Soon he had two of them. Paisano had a blossoming business and a lot of money. He and his lovely wife from Guatemala ran the two gift shops. Paisano drove around town on his motorcycle exchanging cash with US dollars.

Our early gift shops were not sophisticated. However, they carried the local, hand-made, simple products that the tourists could take home and boast about an item from San Pedro. Many people made a lot of money in this blossoming business. The success of gift shops is evident today with the many and varied stores displaying a large array of souvenirs. But tourists are still looking for something that comes from the bottom of the ocean or a simple bottle of Belikin Beer for a souvenir of the island.

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