Winnie Ponson: Celebrating 50 Years in Retail on the Island

A successful retailer on Aruba for the past 50 years, Winnie Ponson tracks the beginning of her business career to a second floor location above the Rio Bar in Oranjestad, where she opened her first boutique , in the 60s, when she was fresh out of school.

It was a modest dress shop, and she called it Eva Boutique. The second floor location was all she could afford. Creating the logo herself, an apple, with two bites, she started buying the latest prêt-à-porter and haute-couture creations for the fashion-thirsty Oranjestad society ladies.

Fashion back then as it is today, was influenced by movie stars and royals and Winnie did well in her boutique expanding with styles from New York, Paris and Dusseldorf.  She added shoes and accessories, and by the end of the 60s, Eva Boutique also boasted a workshop where Winnie’s partner, designer Sonia Schnog, employed up to five seamstresses, aiming to satisfy the needs of the fashinista community.

With her business thriving, Winnie moved down the street to a bigger location, opening a street-level boutique, where Photokina once stood, adding the Gottex bathing suit line to her mix of merchandise.

The bathing suits were recommended to her by her stylish girlfriend Naomi Weisberg. And Naomi was right, the Gottex swimsuit line from Israel was received with great enthusiasm by locals and visitors, resulting in many clients came to Eva Boutique to shop for quality swimsuits and après swimwear at its Nassaustraat location.

In 1967, Winnie opened a store at the Sheraton Hotel. She decorated it nicely, and it became an instant hit. She later also expanded into the Aruba Caribbean Hotel, and became more involved in the tourist market, with shops designed to serve visitors.

The early ’80s in Aruba, Winnie recalls, were fantastic, a period of growth and prosperity until the Venezuelan economy crashed in 1984, then the refinery here closed in 1985, those were hard times, Winnie states, and they called for good financial leadership and common sense.

Having sold the store in town, Winnie kept Gottex and put her energy in the hotel sector opening at the Holiday Inn and at Concorde, today the Westin Resort Aruba. She believed the economy will recover and did her share in contributing to solid business on the island.

She also encouraged her son Anthony to prepare himself for the business world, and by the time he graduated university, he was an expert at computers and in possession of a good understanding of how business works and what it takes to be successful.

Anthony met gorgeous Liza Blok – Ponse in 1991, and by 1995, she was part of the business, adding her contemporary taste and personal chic to the already successful mother-son enterprise.

 

As Winnie is celebrating her 80th birthday, and her 50th anniversary in business, she proudly oversees six wonderfully merchandised and decorated Eva Boutiques—at the Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa, Costa Linda Beach Resort, Westin Resort Aruba, Renaissance Mall, Holiday Inn Sunspree and Casa Del Mar—as well as a European fashion boutique, Entre Nous, at the Renaissance Mall, and four major fashion and gift stores at the hotels, including Costa Linda, the Westin Aruba Resort, the Marriott Ocean Club and the Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa.

“Working as a family,” Winnie recounts, “we bring our individual gifts and blend them together to overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities.”

Anthony meanwhile also diversified into construction and real estate development, creating Oranjestad’s Miramar and Marisol buildings, two successful projects, one of them standing on the plot of land where Winnie’s childhood home once stood.

Today, Winnie sees the world philosophically. She loves to visit the office and check on the bank balances as much as she enjoys spending time with her bright and entrepreneurial grandchild. She is still very much part of the Eva Boutique business, but the daily running of it belongs to the younger generation, which is something to be proud of.