My lovely old landlord, Chris, may have hung up his cleaver in his butcher shop on Dublin’s Wexford Street, but the aptly named Evergreen greengrocer a few doors up is still in business, its cornucopia of customers spilling through the door and milling around shelves packed to the hilt with every conceivable fresh produce.
They shoot the breeze with Michelle Madden, née Horan, the Mayo-born mother of six who runs this show with Dubliner husband Damian.
She is something of an evergreen goddess herself, it has to be said, with her flowing tresses, startlingly blue eyes and slim physique, busy unpacking boxes as she warns a customer not to overcook the spuds he’s just bought “or you’ll have a pot of slop that she’ll throw at you”, before offering another customer’s dog his regular treat of a cherry tomato.
“Do you know where to find a defibrillator?” she asks me. “Because as a population I think we need to know things like that — but until it’s brought to our attention we don’t think about it.”
It happened the other day, and Michelle has since located two of these life-saving machines so she’ll be ready the next time there’s an emergency. “Because I’m here and people always ask me questions. We’re part of the village, not just a shop.”
If we don’t support local shops then they will be gone. And then, whether you’re in Ireland, Australia or New York, you’ll be shopping in the same supermarkets
Michelle describes this corner of the city centre as such “because I come from a little village and everybody knows everybody here and almost knows your business, like in an Irish country village”.
“In my innocence,” she says with a laugh. “I thought when I came to a city that I would be anonymous. Well, you’re absolutely not! You can’t walk up and down the street without someone saying hello.”
This daughter of suckler farmers still goes west every month “because I love the countryside”.
“For me, being in the city centre, I love people. But I also love the fresh air and the freedom and the sensation of the wind in your hair. And I love animals. There’s nothing better than being at home and the sheep and lambs are all out in the field, and it’s getting towards dew-drop time in the evening and they all go and play. It’s just pure innocent magic.”
Whereas sheer hard graft lies behind the impressive fact that Evergreen celebrates 29 years in business this month. Though the future is far from certain, with footfall in the area decimated since Covid.
“Those working in the public sector have no idea just how bad the fallout has been.”
Certainly, I always approach this stretch of my old neck of the woods with trepidation. For the city centre has changed drastically in recent years, more and more Irish shops disappearing to be replaced by global retail and coffee chains and supermarkets everywhere you look.
“They are busy advertising that they are reducing their plastic packaging,” Michelle says wryly. “Now it’s become a trend, whereas we have never packaged things unless it was absolutely necessary. But we don’t have their advertising and marketing budget, so people don’t realise it.”
Evergreen and The Corner Butcher up the road offered free delivery to customers in lockdown when the supermarkets didn’t have enough slots, only to see those customers return to the big chains once the crisis was over. The uncertainty they endure is shared by small independent businesses nationwide.
“I think we have this identity as a country with all these lovely local producers, whether it’s some of the people [whose goods are] on my shelves, or someone with a shop of their own; those little places that we all love that are like a comfort blanket in your own little village, in every village in the country.
"But if we don’t support them, they will be gone. And then it won’t matter whether you’re in Ireland or Australia or New York, because you’re going to shop in the same supermarket. And we become a sterile world. I think that’s a crime, and I think in Ireland we’re worse at letting that go than a lot of European areas.”
The survival of every such oasis depends on the choices we make as consumers. Because it’s not just the fresh produce in Evergreen that is perishable.