Starfish Market owner David Mugar will remain committed to St. John even though he has accepted an offer on his multi-million dollar home in the island’s exclusive gated Peter Bay community.
The sale of the Cliff House, which was constructed for Mugar and his former wife in the early 1990s, is not a sign that Mugar and his grocery store are leaving St. John, the businessman explained.
“I sold the home certainly with mixed emotions,” he said in a Friday afternoon, January 26, telephone interview. “Life is always changing for all of us. Good things happen, not so good things happen, and you have to be ready for change — it’s just part of what this adventure called life is.”
Mugar plans to experience St. John’s resorts on his subsequent visits to the island, however, setting up a new St. John residence is not out of the question, he explained.
“It’s not an impossibility,” said Mugar. “I’ve looked at condos. It’s not impossible that I’d have some smaller type of residence.”
St. Maarten to St. John
Mugar first came to St. John in 1989 after living on St. Maarten for several years.
“I used to have a house in St. Maarten with my wife at the time, and the whole place was just exploding with growth — the nature of the island changed dramatically in a five-year time period,” said Mugar. “We wanted to stay in the Caribbean, so we went to stay at Caneel Bay for a long weekend. My wife at the time had gone to St. John as a teenager and absolutely loved it.”
The couple met up with a real estate agent and made an offer on two Peter Bay lots soon after.
“We happened to run into a real estate agent who took us on a tour, and we fell in love with Peter Bay right away,” said Mugar. “My recollection is we made an offer within days of having toured the island. It’s very easy to fall in love with St. John.”
Record Construction Time
“When you find a slice of paradise, sometimes it’s like grabbing a rainbow — you have to reach out for it,” Mugar added.
The couple stayed at the Gatehouse in Peter Bay while the Cliff House was constructed in nearly record time for St. John.
“Building the house was a remarkable challenge,” said Mugar. “I’m very, very grateful to the architect and construction workers who worked on it, because they built it in just 10-and-a-half months, which is unheard of on St. John. I greatly admired the various workmen and people who worked on the house.”
Mugar and his wife at the time were able to move in to the Cliff House just days before Christ-mas in 1992.
Mugar, who grew up discussing the supermarket business at the dinner table thanks to his father, who started the successful Star Market chain in New Eng-land, soon saw a need for a one-stop shop on St. John.
“St. John was much smaller than what you see now; Cruz Bay was a lot smaller and funkier,” said Mugar. “There was no one store. We had to go to about four or five different stores for produce, frozen foods, veggies and meats.”
After years of meeting a Puerto Rican boat in Cruz Bay to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, Mugar hatched the idea for Starfish Market, he explained.
“Most of the fruits and veggies came over on a boat from Puerto Rico every Wednesday, and we used to have to get out onto the landing area to buy produce off the Puerto Rican boat,” said Mugar. “It was so different. I did that for a few years before I got to saying, ‘These are the ‘90s and this is not the way things are.’”
Starfish Market opened and soon outgrew its space, Mugar explained.
“Starfish opened up where Dolphin is now in Boulon Center,” he said. “The sales in-creased every year, and I could foresee that we would outgrow that space quickly.”
Mugar and three other partners secured land in Estate Enighed and oversaw the construction of The Marketplace, which provided more space for the growing grocery store.
“We found the land where The Marketplace is now and worked on building The Marketplace that you see there today,” said Mugar. “We greatly expanded from the old location in Boulon Center to the existing Starfish Market. We brought a first class supermarket to St. John for the first time, and we haven’t looked back since.”
The one-stop grocery store, initially born out of a “personal need,” according to Mugar, now sees 7,000 customers a week.
Mugar’s fondest memories of establishing and building up Starfish to the grocery store it’s become today is working with the people who helped make the store successful.
“We’ve had some wonderful employees, some of them with us since just about day one,” said Mugar. “The people I personally worked with over the years have impressed me the most.”
Starfish has become a large employer on the island.
“We have well over 70 employees, and we employ a lot of natives,” said Mugar. “Being able to get our employees trained in modern day methods makes them more marketable if they desire to go stateside and have jobs there. We’re a major contributing factor to the economy, which I’m very proud of.”