Modernising the Irish home – with costly weekly instalments
YOU'RE probably done spending by now on the January Sales and with luck you nabbed some great bargains. I was taking a look around town myself the other day when I walked past PJ Coleman's empty shop. It saddened me to see the place shut. It also made me think of a time when even at the sale price very few people bought bigger goods outright.
In the early days of television especially, people rented their sets.
And around Sligo a huge number of the first clunky Bush, PYE and Pilot televisions were rented and repaired by Colemans, a business that stared out selling and fixing bicycles.
In its heyday, under Peter Coleman, the shop would have had seven or eight vans on the road, with Mary McGowan and Christina Jones needed in the office to keep track of the rentals.
Even when more reliable Mitsubishi televisions and video recorders came in, people still preferred to rent for the reliable back-up service.
For more general household goods people turned to a long-since closed Sligo business called Sloanes on Castle Street.
Whether it was a mattress or an alarm clock, a wardrobe or a settee, Sloanes delivered to your door; at a fair price, but with added interest of course.
The agent on the road for Sloanes in our area was Paddy Smith.
He was a broad-shouldered man with a mellow voice who wore a tweed cap and a gabardine raincoat, in the inside pocket of which he carried a bundle of accounts as heavy as a brick. My mother used to offer Paddy tea. And sometimes he agreed to take "a drop in his hand", that he drank standing up while she found the pound note, or the red tenshilling note if money was tight that week, put aside to keep up with the repayments.
"Anything at all," Paddy would say, welcoming the smallest amount.
Then he opened her book, recorded the sum and the date, and tallied the balance before folding away her money.
He understood his clients' apprehensions, and transactions were clearly recorded in full sight.
The additional interest charged might be high, but every instalment brought my mother a little bit closer to the point where she hoped that Paddy wouldn't find it 'unseemly' if she put in another order and upped the bill again.
Whether he got paid or not, Paddy never made a fuss.
He called the next week and the week after that with the patience that gets a snail to Jerusalem.
In the long run it was the clients themselves who got fed up paying the high interest rates and being limited to the same few outlets.
"They did us no favours, but I was sorry to see them go," my mother said of these oldworld shops whose business was built on rentals, repairs and hire purchase.
And it was always a happy and exciting occasion whenever a delivery van brought something new to the house, even if the purchase came trailing a long kite-tail of weekly repayments.
It was a welcome service in the life of my mother and scores of patient and determined women just like her: a generation of proud homemakers who modernised Ireland in weekly instalments.