Monday 14 October 2019

'Hub for the stars' and birthplace of duty free gets €1m makeover boost

Barry Duggan

IT is the birthplace of duty free globally and was a favourite stop for stage and screen stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Gene Kelly.

Sixty-four years after it all began, the world famous shop known as Shannon Duty Free has got a €1m facelift.

However, the operation all started from far more humble beginnings.

Born out of an amazing piece of foresight, it was the great business leader of the Mid-West, the late Brendan O'Regan who successfully petitioned government to have this area of the fledgling airport declared a tax no-man's land to convince the rich and famous passing through the airport to part with their money.

As a result, the world's first duty-free shop started out in 1947 as a simple kiosk measuring just a few square metres.

Few would think then that 64 years later, the concept he founded with that small shop would become such a worldwide phenomenon.


Like all business visionaries, Mr O'Regan was way ahead of his time; the tiny kiosk operated by local woman, Kitty Downes, may have sold the expected Irish linen and locally produced souvenirs, but it also included a burgeoning range of other international gifts -- French perfumes and German porcelain among the cache.

Mr O'Regan even enlisted Ireland's top emerging model of the day -- Celia Holman-Lee -- to help encourage the big-spending jet-set to part with more of their cash.

"Everyone used to come through there by the 1960s. I started my modelling career at the age of 15 or 16 and I was out at Shannon at least once or twice a week modelling," she said.

Shannon and the duty-free shop was a must-stop for transatlantic passengers whose planes had to refuel. Marilyn Monroe, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando all shopped there.

"Shannon was one of the biggest hubs in the world and all the stars used to come through. I was so young and naive, I didn't realise who half of them were. Bing Crosby was there on another occasion," Mrs Holman-Lee said.

"I used to walk up and down the duty-free shop modelling the latest fashions from magnificent Irish designers.

"There was Donegal tweeds, wool coats and suits, Aran sweaters, mohair jackets, classic cut clothes from the finest of fabrics.

It was a fantastic time," she said.

"I knew Brendan O'Regan very well.

"His vision for the Mid-West region was second to none. He was unbelievable," she added.

More than 60 years after the small kiosk opened, Shannon Airport is fighting a battle to boost passenger numbers.

However, it has received a significant boost with a €1m investment into the duty free shop -- entitled 'The Loop' -- by the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA). Retail director with the DAA, Paul Neeson, said they, "are delighted to be improving the spiritual home of airport shopping".

"Following this significant investment, the new retail area in Shannon is much brighter and offers our customers a much more pleasant shopping environment," Mr Neeson said.

Irish Independent

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