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Couple combine medicine, travel, sales

Dan and Cheryl Mountcastle help needy people around the world in multiple ways.

By PAUL SWIDER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 14, 2007


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St. Pete beach- What started as an Ohio farm boy's dreams of seeing the world has become a $300,000 business importing cultural products from 24 countries for resale in hundreds of stores.

"These kinds of things never make any money," said Dr. Dan Mountcastle, 57, who with his wife, Cheryl, 53, owns and operates Mountcastle International, a wholesale and retail business in handicrafts from underprivileged populations. "But I get tremendous returns nonetheless."

The Mountcastles started their import business from home in 1985 but it grew until they now have 500 wholesale customers, a 15-year-old shop in Pass-a-Grille and a new Web site where stores and the public can shop for artisans' works the couple found mainly through their own work and travels. The import business has always been an avocation while they each have worked worldwide on medical relief projects, as well as conventional medicine in the Tampa Bay area.

The products come from villages and refugee camps in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, as well as other locales. Each item carries a tag explaining its origins and cultural significance. The well-traveled couple see their fair-trade import business as an outlet of understanding as well as a means of support for those who have little.

"The idea is to get as close as you can to the producers and then mark up from the bottom so they can earn more," Mountcastle said.

The artisans receive about half of the sales proceeds. The rest is eaten up in overhead and retailers' profit. It doesn't amount to huge money, Dan says, but a little goes a long way in poor countries. People who had nothing when he started working with them now have homes and send their children to good schools.

The products are simple ornaments or garments. Some are as the people would make for themselves; others, adaptations for an American market.

"Let's face it, there's a limited market for Indonesian puppets, for example, but if we limited it to the original items, a lot of these people would still have nothing."

The Mountcastles met in Saudi Arabia in 1983 working for a government hospital. They wanted to travel to Africa but didn't have money, so they concocted the idea of selling quilts Cheryl could acquire from Hmong villagers she'd met during an assignment in a refugee camp on the Laotian-Cambodian border. That initial aim didn't work out, but the business has carried them around the world and brought it back home.

"We've gotten many things from this work," said Dan Mountcastle, who went into medicine as a vehicle for travel.

Along the path, the Mountcastles have had stints at area medical facilities and overseas medical work in the Middle East and Central Asia. They took time to have five children, ages 6-13, who have now themselves visited 30 countries.

"I hope they've gotten some perspective from it," Mountcastle said of both his children and his customers. "This work is a kind of connection to be part of a bigger world."

The couple run Mountcastle Vein Centers in St. Petersburg and Largo, where they treat people with leg pain, muscular fatigue, leg ulcers and more complications of varicose veins. Though they seem settled, Dan says he hopes to grow the clinic so he can take time for other projects, including those involving indigenous botanical products from places he's visited.

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

If you go

Mountcastle International

mountcastle.com

107 Eighth Ave.

St. Pete Beach

1-800-343-5844

[Last modified October 13, 2007, 22:03:28]


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