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There's something a bit different in store

WHAT is it that draws you across the doorstep into a shop? In these times, it really has to be something different. Such was the case in Westport recently when I visited three very different shops.

At the Leaping Lizard, a bijou emporium at the bottom of Bridge Street in the Co Mayo town, a bejewelled green lizard winked temptingly in the window. The owner, Linda Newman, describes the Leaping Lizard as "an unusual shop" filled with mad "artsy fartsy" gifts and "things". There is probably nothing sensible in the store but that is not what Linda is about.

Linda is an extrovert, who describes herself as "Shop Girl", and she really adds to the experience of browsing in her shop. From Wisconsin in the US, Linda came to Ireland some 25 years ago. She had no Irish connections but felt immediately that it was the place for her.

She lives on a little farm "with her ever indulgent partner" where they have two dogs, Lily and Dixi, and a pet pig Angelo Hogdini -- "he's an Italian pig, of course". They also have a Bearded Dragon lizard named Caesar and a very crabby guard goose. Linda drives a 1969 Triumph Herald and she belongs to the Connaught Vintage Car Club.

Her little treasure trove initially started out as Natural Wonders, out on Westport Quay. After a few years she moved into town, also branching out into the property market under the name of Western Homes and Holidays. The retail business eventually became Leaping Lizard with the shop on the ground floor and the property management business upstairs.

Greeting cards with funky and fun messages are a specialty. A fun range of Swarovsky crystal jewellery is also popular -- sparkling lizard brooches, rings and bracelets with pink and green crystals that were featured in O: The Oprah Magazine. She also has a new line called 'Pearls for Girls', long strings of fresh water pearls with chunky detachable charms -- the most expensive retails for €40.

Check out too a range of felt creations by local craftsperson Suzie Sullivan of Derryaun Crafts who also gives workshops in everything from jewellery making to spinning and hand dying wool. Linda credits Suzie with an endless supply of talent and creative ideas. It was at Suzie's house over dinner one evening that they made a prototype for her 'Princess Crowns', which are fashioned from coloured wire mesh and copper wire decorated with crystals and beads.

Linda also has a new range of puppets for children of all ages. Look too for Light a Lantern sky lanterns made from bio-degradable paper to release into the night sky, float on ponds, or light the walkway to a party. Find them online at www.leapinglizardwestport. com or at www.irishholiday rentals.com/westernholidays

I was really taken by Michael Gannon's photographic works in his shop further up Bridge Street. Michael, who is from Balla, is 47 and studied construction engineering in college. He worked in the building trade until 1989 when he and his wife Betty, who is an artist, set up a business making wooden jigsaw puzzles under the name of Little Birch puzzles. That has been going very well for 20 years. However, business has slowed a bit now with the recession. "I am even having a problem in sourcing materials," Michael says.

In the past five years he has developed his other passion for photography and has had several exhibitions. He also achieved a Fellowship distinction from the Irish Photographic Federation. Michael and his wife had another premises but when things started to quieten down, they decided "we weren't going lying down, we are going to the main street where my photography would be more accessible". Michael says "people seem to like my style".

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I can see why. Flowers are his specialty and his colours are alternatively so subtle and delicate, or vibrant and hot, that you want to reach out and touch them. Michael explained how he captured the different layers and colours by immersing the flowers in water, freezing them and then playing around with light. His subjects include nostalgic images of an abandoned panda in a deserted house, old sewing machines, the Sacred Heart hanging from old picture rails, as well as local photography of the area.

Prices start at €55 framed up to €400/€500 or unframed from €35 and all are available on his website, www.michaelgannonphotography.com

At the top of Bridge Street, I was lured by beautiful arty jewellery into O'Reilly Turpin, a contemporary craft and design shop. Here I met Antoinette Turpin, one half of the eponymous O'Reilly Turpin. Antoinette told me she originally had a restaurant next door where she specialised in organic produce. She laughingly recalled how on one occasion she served rice to a man who put his hand up like a schoolchild to know "what that was on the plate". Things have come a long way since then.

Now she is in a different field selling artistic and elegant jewellery. I spotted some silver pieces by Garrett Mallen who works in his studio at the foot of the Cooley Mountains in Omeath, Co Louth.

She also stocks a range called Mirabelle, who also design for companies such as Dunhill. All Mirabelle jewellery is produced by fair trade suppliers using sterling silver, 22k gold plated metals, brass, semi-precious stones, carved mother of pearl, wood and shells from trusted sources which also reflects the ethos of O'Reilly Turpin. They also stock jewellery by Tuula Harrington and Enibas.

Their pottery is all hand made including sculptures by Ayelet Lalor and ceramics by Michael Kennedy, one of the founders of Irish pottery, whom Antoinette points out "trained loads of people who now have their own business -- which is what we need in Ireland". Hear hear!

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