For close to four decades, the building at the corner of King Street and Prince Street in Cruz Bay has been a hub of activity. Here, newly arrived residents have found their first apartment; workers have sent money to family down island; visitors chartered a boat for a day on the water or stored their luggage safely while enjoying their final hours on the island. The appropriately-named Connections will continue to play a vital role in the St. John community, but the friendly face and founder of the business, Cid Hamling, will no longer greet customers from behind the counter. At the age of 70, Hamling has retired, handing over the reins to new owner Trista Sigler as of last week.
“I wanted to travel, which was my primary reason for considering retirement,” said Hamling. “I would love to see my family, but not until it’s safe.”
Hamling plans to stay on St. John, continuing to offer her services as a notary public, and volunteering as a member of the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park board. A self-described “social creature” with a desire to do good, Hamling started Connections in 1982 by simply looking to fill a niche. She’d arrived in the territory in 1981 after finishing grad school, where she studied social work and counseling psychology, with the goal of catching a boat to the Mediterranean, where she planned to work crewing boats.
“Then I saw the water here and said, ‘I think I’ll stay for a while,’” Hamling recalled.
She first lived on St. Thomas, where she taught at the College of the Virgin Islands and sold handmade items from a street stand in front of Cardow Jewelers and a shop at Mountain Top. She spent all her free time on St. John, and decided to eventually make the move to Love City.
“When I moved to St. John, I couldn’t get a mailbox,” Hamling recalled. “I couldn’t make a phone call, it took six months to get a landline. Everybody used the phone at the dock which didn’t always work, or there was the phone at the police station. A phone out in Coral Bay sometimes let you make free long distance calls so we’d all hitchhike out there to make our phone calls.”
A conversation with a neighbor about her ambitions led to that neighbor offering Hamling some space and a phone line in his real estate office. Hamling and her roommate set out on foot toward the Cruz Bay office from the Upper Deck area in Bethany, where she lived at the time, picking up a card table from the dumpster on their way.
“I set up the card table as my desk, and I still have that phone number to this day,” said Hamling. “It’s our fax line.”
It was late 1982, and Connections was born. From there, the business continued to add services. Not only did Hamling bring the first fax machine and color copier to St. John, but she also became a notary public, offered laminating, booked charter boats, provided call forwarding for other businesses in the territory, and became a Western Union location. She subletted some of her space to valuable businesses and services over the years including a lawyer, cable TV company, a graphic designer, and tech repair business Computer Express. Hamling founded the St. John Revolving Fund, which allows people to make tax-deductible donations to help residents in need of small short-term emergency loans, primarily for medical expenses. She expanded to Coral Bay with the founding of Connections East, now owned by Jennifer Robinson.
From her initial, simple goal of providing a phone for residents to use, Hamling grew Connections to become an integral part of the daily functions of island residents and businesses. Beyond the nuts and bolts of the services Connections offers, the purple-hued building has become a home of something less tangible but perhaps even more important — the human connection.
“A friend told me that Connections is like a bar without booze,” said Hamling. “It’s where people gather to share ideas, find out what’s new, or get input on various matters.”
Connections has evolved over the years to keep up with technology, and Hamling said Sigler, the business’s new owner, will do a great job of advancing Connections’ use of modern technology even further. Sigler has worn many hats on the island, including working at Connections for the last six years.
“She enjoys doing what the job requires,” said Hamling. “It was important to me to make sure it was a good fit, and I’m very pleased.”