For an astonishing 40 years this week, Castleisland shopkeeper Martin Curtin has stood inside the counter of his shop at 120 Upper Main Street.
Astonishing, for the fact that the trend has been dragging hard in a direction so opposed to the survival of the small shop and with increasing ferocity since he opened his door back then. ‘Back then’ was on June 28th 1982.
It was a time when A Little Peace by Nicole; House of Fun by Madness; I’ve Never Been to Me by Charlene and Happy Talk by Captain Sensible were the most played songs on radio.
That Martin has loved every minute of all those years, is obvious from the way he talks about staff members, his customers, his suppliers and the odd helpful bank manager along the way.
“I’ve been blessed with the staff and customers I’ve had down through the years for their honesty and loyalty to me. We look after each other and I wouldn’t be here without them,” he said as he reflected on the flight of four decades of his life as a grocer.
“I have one friend who came into the shop here to me on the first day to wish me well but also to tell me that I’d be closed in three weeks. With friends like that…
“That customer is still coming in the door to me here and we’re great friends,” said Martin.
“It was more out of concern for the gamble I was taking at the time that made that person make a prediction like that – I know it wasn’t made with any bad intentions – and I’ve never revealed the identity of that person to anyone.
“Supermarkets were really coming into their own at that time and small shops were becoming a thing of the past and here was I opening the kind of business that was disappearing daily around me and almost everywhere else,” Martin recalled.
“I started off here in ’82 as a green grocer selling fruit and veg, flowers and plants and I gradually took on more lines. I got the news agency from Don Dowling who ran a small shop up the street and he got it from his neighbour Mrs. Fleming when she retired. And we have the Lotto agency also and it all helps.
“The shop here really took off when I went into selling and delivering fuel around the area and it still is the strong point of the shop – that and sweets.
“In fact I’m now selling sweets to grand-daughters and grand-sons of school-going customers I had when I opened that time.
“My first major purchase was an electronic weighing scale. I started off with an ordinary kitchen scale and a salesman, who obviously knew what he was doing, gave me a loan of an electronic scale for three weeks and told me to ‘see how you’ll get on with it."
“It was indispensable, of course, and he made his sale.
“Hot food and a wide variety of it is the way forward for small shops nowadays. I won’t be getting into it at this stage of my life,” said Martin.
It was always going to be shop-keeping as a career for Martin.
His parents, Paddy and Maura were Main Street publicans and his aunt Peg Breen ran a toy shop and grocery at Lower Main Street.
He seriously thought of a life as a draper and he started his working life as a draper’s clerk in 1974 with Anthony Hannon now Jackie Reidy’s.
His working life took in Tralee and Dunne’s Stores before home thoughts and a shop of his own really took hold.
“I love my shop and I love working in it. The hours are long but I just love meeting people every day and the word retirement isn’t something I’ve even considered. Even with the disappearance of all the small shops in the area here, I hope that it’ll be retirement eventually for me rather than closing down.
“The day I can’t put a bag of coal into the back of the truck that’s the day I’ll pack it in and I hope that’s a while away yet,” said Martin in conclusion.
While we were engaged in taking the photographs on the street afterwards, Martin pointed out all the shops that once served his immediate area.
He started at the corner of College Road and all on his side of the street and named: Phil Ryan’s, Mrs. Fleming’s and Mrs. Culloty’s, Don Dowling’s and Griffin’s. He pointed out to the other side of the street to where Mrs. Crowley had her shop and up farther, the truly legendary Katie Ha’penny and on up again to Vincie Keane’s supermarket.
Willie Lyons had a shop where the insurance office is now and across the road where Moloney’s Cake Shop is still going strong after over 90 years in business.
Next door to Moloney’s was Fitzmaurice’s little shop and delightful bar and if you turned the corner onto Limerick Road there was Nelligan’s Shop and Bakery and Breen’s Shop halfway between Nelligan’s and Desmonds Avenue and Timothy Murphy’s shop and filling station.