It all started with the talents and interest of one man. Mr. Wilfred “Willie” Watanabe was born to Mr. Koichi and Irene Watanabe on July 26, 1965. Mr. Watanabe’s interest was in Art and his goal was to spread his artistic talents to young Palauans. At a young age, Mr. Watanabe illustrated his artistic talents by drawing pictures that depicted Palauan Legends and culture. His artwork was displayed in government buildings and museums with the intent of promoting Art to young Palauans. He continued his work by recruiting and teaching young people the art of making local jewelries and other work of arts.
In the late 1990’s, he was hired as an Art teacher at Mindszenty High School. He continued teaching his apprentices how to make local jewelries and small crafts in his spare time. The jewelries and crafts made were sold to tourists and the profits were given to his apprentices to reward them for their hard work. Their first customer was a Japanese tourist whom Mr. Watanabe met in Palau and who later became a frequent customer of theirs. Mr. Watanabe recognized the business potential of crafting local jewelries, therefore, in 2000, arranged a meeting with Duty Free Shoppers (DFS) to propose the idea of displaying and selling local handcrafted jewelries. DFS showed great interest and decided to contract Mr. Watanabe to sell and display his crafts at their local outlets. His agreement with DFS marked the beginning of Willie’s Local Gift Shop as a small Palauan owned local gift shop. Today, DFS continues to be one of the gift shop’s primary customer and also the backbone of the shop’s steady operation.
Mr. Wilfred “Willie” Watanabe died on March 23, 2008. His legacy and his passion for art continues to live in the minds and hearts of many. His influence can still be seen in the form of various artwork throughout Palau. Today, Willie’s Local Gift Shop is owned and managed by his equally talented brother Mr. Feliciano S. Watanabe. With the desire to keep his brother’s legacy going and to continue to promote Palauan artwork, the gift shop has expanded its jewelry line and customer base.