Maarten enjoys an unusual status as a commercial center: it is
among the world's few duty-free ports. This means that no duty
is paid on any item coming in or going out. Luxury items cost
up to 50 percent less than in other countries, and it is a small
wonder that shoppers and cruise ships from around the world head
here to buy jewelry, electronics, perfume, crystal, and other
Most of Dutch St. Maarten's shopping is concentrated
along Front Street in Philipsburg. Boutiques stretch along the
entire length of the street, and stylish arcades lead off in either
direction. A truly international center, Front Street offers top-of-the-line
products from around the world. Prices are quoted in US dollars,
saving shoppers the confusion of sorting out exchange rates.
Jewelry is a perennial favorite for St. Maarten
shoppers. The Front Street jewelers offer everything from loose
diamonds and emeralds to original creations in gold and silver.
Many jewelers also sell exclusive Swiss watches. Other great buys
are international fashions, from Gucci to Ralph Lauren, fine leather
goods, and top-of-the-line French cosmetics. Front Street also
offers the best of 20th-century electronics, including televisions,
CD players, cameras, and fax machines.
Native arts and crafts are not lost among all
the Euro-ware. The more popular offerings are West Indian hammocks,
wood carvings, handmade jewelry, and bottles of local guavaberry
liquor. Private galleries showcase the work of artists from all
over the Netherlands Antilles. Shops on Front Street are open from
8 or 9 am until noon, and then again from 2 until 6 p.m. Some stores
remain open during lunch as a convenience to visiting cruise ship
passengers. Most shops are open every day except Christmas and
stores on St. Maarten remain open until the wee hours, alert to
the sudden desire for acquisition triggered by casino winnings.
Among the late-night shopping areas, Maho Bay has gained a particularly
high reputation. Chic boutiques selling high fashion clothing,
perfumes, and cosmetics now stay open almost as late as the surrounding
A note about duties: Every country has
its own customs requirements on goods brought back from duty-free
vacations. Front Street merchants can give details on most countries'