St. John Tradewinds News

Demolition of Lumberyard Complex Shuts Down St. John Ice

Alan Johnson stands outside the Lumberyard Complex Saturday, the longtime home of his St. John Ice business, as demolition continues.

The owner of St. John Ice is not blaming the Lumberyard Complex for the closing of St. John Ice which left residents and businesses in Coral Bay without a source of bottled water for two days.

The island’s main producer of ice and bottled water since 1983, St. John Ice closed its doors Aug. 6 as contractors moved in to complete the scheduled demolition of the Lumberyard Complex.

St. John Ice owner Alan Johnson said he knew that demolition was pending for the multi-use commercial property in Cruz Bay, which was hammered by Hurricane Irma last September.

“I had been hearing for six months that they were about to start. I should have had a Plan B ready.”

Johnson said last week’s unexpected closing was due to a misunderstanding.

“I thought when they said Monday, that would be my last day of business, and I would have several days to get my equipment out of there.”

Community members line up to buy water on Sept 13, 2017.

The demolition contractors’ arrival on Monday sent Johnson scrambling to get his ice and water production equipment into storage and led to passionate calls for assistance on social media.

Johnson said he was keeping his business open by bringing water and ice from St. Thomas.

“I bought a truck on St. Thomas on Tuesday and was able to get it back to St. John late Wednesday. I’m delivering to the stores and the construction trade ‘off location,’” he said.

Johnson said that it was an unfortunate coincidence that only one barge was operating between St. Thomas and St. John on Wednesday, which led to delays in getting water and ice to customers, especially in Coral Bay.

All of the other tenants of the Lumberyard Complex moved out immediately after the storm, but Legacy Development V.I., the owners of the Lumberyard Complex, made special provisions to allow St. John Ice to continue operations using generated power.

“I want to thank David Olson, the representative from Legacy,” Johnson said. “He’s been a godsend. He was right here after the storm and did what he could to keep us going, knowing what we do for the community.”

After the hurricane, customers lined up at the ice company each morning as soon as the curfew was lifted. Community members depended on St. John Ice for months until power was restored to the island and people were able to run refrigerators and water pumps. Johnson struggled to produce enough water and ice to supply the community, but much of his equipment was old and in need of constant repair. He praised Darrel Tasmin, the original owner of Dr. Cool, for helping him keep his equipment going.

“Everybody thinks I made a lot of money after Irma, but I didn’t. It cost me $8,000 a month in fuel to run the generators,” said Johnson. He was able to keep his staff – which ranges from four to six workers – employed in spite of the difficulties.

Although there is another company that bottles water on the island, St. John Ice is the only location where people can refill bottles and jugs.

“People are so bummed that they can’t refill their bottles,” said Johnson. It’s nicer; there’s less plastic.”

The storm-damaged Lumberyard Complex in October.

Johnson said several other businesses are able to produce ice on a smaller scale, including Dolphin Market and Pine Peace Market, but it’s important to get the ice plant up and running. “This is August. September is almost here,” said Johnson, referring to the peak of hurricane season when a storm is most likely to cut off supplies from St. Thomas.

Johnson said he’s hoping the owners of the Lumberyard will be able to provide him with space to set up a temporary production facility after the demolition is completed.

“I’m trying to create something for the future. St. John needs to be self-sufficient. We need a hurricane-proof water and ice company.”

While he is without a location for his business, Johnson can be contacted by email at stjohniceco@gmail.com.

Shared content for Virgin Islands Source and St. John Tradewinds.