Tuesday 21 November 2017

Loyal Boyers customers are braced for the long goodbye

Sisters Bernie Cronin and Anne Farrell outside Boyers in Dublin city Photo: Caroline Quinn
Sisters Bernie Cronin and Anne Farrell outside Boyers in Dublin city Photo: Caroline Quinn
Terry Smee and Olga Loughins outside Boyers. They say there is nowhere else to shop for their age group Photo: Caroline Quinn
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

In May 1967 legendary crooner Val Doonican obligingly popped in to Boyers Department Store on North Earl Street in Dublin to launch the new silk department. The purveyor of easy-listening tunes was by then at the high point of his career, with his own 'Val Doonican Music Show' on TV, and had been voted BBC Personality of the Year in 1966.

It could also be argued that it was also something of a high point in the career of Boyers. Photographs of the event capture the general hubbub in the store on that day, with a massive crowd, all faces beaming in excitement.

Another photo shows Doonican as he regales the glamorous, '60s-attired staff with anecdotes from the entertainment world.

Boyers & Co was set up as a limited company in November 1929 - although the store had opened much earlier, with records showing a Boyers shop at 4 Cathedral street and 22 Earl Street as far back as 1908. It was extensively looted during the Civil War.

In 1961, it was acquired by Arnotts at a time when its profits had all but disappeared, and staff eagerly greeted the takeover.

Arnotts invested money in Boyers - adding a new shoe department in 1970 and expanding its footprint - but, unfortunately, also ditched the stately 1920s signage in favour of something "more modern".

From 11 departments, Boyers went up to 21, thanks to the £50,000 purchase of 17 North Earl Street, and a café was also added.

Throughout the 1970s, Boyers & Co expanded even further after it acquired a hotel in Marlborough Street - resulting in the store's rambling internal arrangement, with three levels in Marlborough Street and two in North Earl Street.

For its loyal customer base, its appeal never changed. It may have lacked the cachet of Clerys or of Arnotts itself. But what it offered was value and a warmth of service that still persists in the dying days of the last landmark department store north of the Liffey outside of Henry Street.

Boyers shuts up shop for good on January 31 and customers are already in mourning - for the excellent value to be had in good dinners upstairs in the café, for the lack of suitable clothing now available for a certain age category - and for the state of North Earl Street itself.

"All we'll have on the street now is those little bargain shops," says one customer.

When we drop in, there's a companionable buzz among customers and staff alike.

It's a bit like a private members club, where everybody knows everybody else. There are many mother and daughter groupings, and a middle-aged daughter helps her father down the stairs and asks if he knows where he's heading in the higgledy-piggledy layout.

One customer chats about her cat as she pays for her purchase in the handbag department, while a pair of elderly friends discuss the goods on offer.

"I don't like that," says one of a violently checked jacket.

"No, I prefer plainer stuff," agrees the other.

The lingerie section upstairs is already gone, replaced by a jumble of boxes, empty stands and Christmas decorations.

But the restaurant is doing a roaring trade, with old-fashioned booths filled with diners chatting companionably.

Retired law clerk Tom Madden from Drimnagh has been coming in here two days a week. Nowhere else offers a great roast with "all the trimmings" for €6.95, he explains.

"It's not only great value, it's terrific," he says.

Friends Ann Uzell and Bernadette Keogh from Ballyfermot agree it will be a sad day when Boyers closes: "We'll miss it. All the lovely shops on Talbot Street are going," laments Ann.

"They had the best clothes, the jackets and the shoes were great. I bought a duvet here 30 years ago and it's still going strong," she adds.

"It'll affect other business on the street. People won't come in," she worries.

Sisters Bernie Cronin from North Strand and Anne Farrell from Harold's Cross have been shopping here "for years".

They'll miss the jackets - and the great bargain basement where Bernie once bought a duvet, slightly marked, for €6.99 only to find an identical one in Clerys for €75.

Ann Byrne has travelled up from Monaghan for a day's shopping. Boyers is one of her favourite haunts and after it closes, all that will be left is Arnotts and Debenhams.

"It's sad to see all the changes," she, too, says.

For another set of sisters, Terry Smee from Clondalkin and Olga Loughins, the closure is "very sad".

Reared in the north inner city, they remember their mother shopping in Cassidys up the road. "Where Dunnes is now," says Terry.

They liked the staff, who they knew as friends. They often picked up boots in the winter sales.

"For our age group, there's no place left to shop," they say sadly, as they continue their way up scruffy North Earl Street - destined to become much scruffier come January 31.

Irish Independent

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