Not just a stroll on the beach

Selling handicrafts to tourists is a hard day’s work for Dean Walcott, as Tracy Assing discovers

Dean Walcott as he works on his craft. Photograph by Tracy Assing

Dean Walcott’s work day starts at 6 a.m., with a 15-minute taxi ride from Caanan to Store Bay.

Tobago depends on tourism for most of its revenue, and many locals have turned to art and craft in a bid to capitalise on the market. Mini-bazaars spring up wherever three or four of these wily sales folk congregate. You only have to be at Store Bay (or any other of the popular beaches in Tobago) for about ten minutes before someone carrying a display of colourful, hand-crafted earrings, necklaces and wristbands saunters up and asks you to make a purchase.

For the past ten years, Walcott has been managing and supplying a craft stall in the section of booths in Store Bay dedicated to the trade.

He has spent 20 years perfecting his craft, working mainly in beads, but sometimes in stones or leather. He is self-taught. His skills help him support his family, financing the education of his three children.

He was born in England and moved to Trinidad at the age of ten. In 1995, he moved to Store Bay because the market for handicraft was better there. Initially he plied his wares, like most beginners, with necklaces, earrings and wristbands pinned to a strip of crocus-bag material (jute) stretched over a piece of plywood. After a few years he was making enough to be able to rent one of the booths.

He’s had customers from all over the world, but his principal sales come from visitors from other Caribbean islands, Europe and America.

“The business can be very seasonal,” he explained. “There are low times and high times. But the last three years have been pretty good throughout. The very best sale period is between January and Easter.”

His advice to someone thinking of joining the trade is: “It’s crowded, so try to be original.”

The beadwork is the most difficult part of his job. “Sometimes my fingers are sore from all the wire-bending, and it can be pretty time-consuming. I work in very small beads and it takes a lot of patience.”

Between sales he works on more jewellery, until about 7.30 p.m., when the fading light makes it difficult.

He purchases his raw materials from Trinidad or over the internet, and his designs come from mainly from his imagination. “Sometimes I just start and the piece will develop for itself. Sometimes I look in books and see what kind of fashion people are wearing. I play with my own ideas…and sometimes it’s just things I like to see women wearing,” he explained with his slow and easy sales-winning smile.

Dean Walcott can be contacted at Enchanted Isle Accessories, 19 Store Bay Beach Facility, Tobago. Phone: (+ 868) 493-1304