Tuesday 17 September 2019

End of an era as Henry's Jewellers set to close

Jessica Farry talks to Tony Henry, owner of Henry's Jewellers about his decision to close the family business, which has been on High Street since the 1950s

It wasn't an easy decision, but for Tony Henry, it felt like the right one at the right time.

Tony, owner of Henry's Jewellers on High Street, last week announced that he would be shutting shop in the next week or so.

Henry's Jewellers is a Sligo institution and has been trading in the town since 1956.

But, with consumers now often more inclined to shop online, business has been difficult for Henry's.

Tony told The Sligo Champion: "I just feel that the retail end of it is very difficult for the smaller guy.

"The multinationals have gone online, people's loyalty is questionable at times now, I just think for me, it's the right time to turn the key and walk away with a clear head."

This was not a decision taken lightly. Tony himself has worked in the jewellers from a very young age. His siblings, too, helped their parents out from a young age in the shop.

Tony's brother Gilbert runs a goldsmith business beside the jewellers.

It's all he knows. But now, he is ready for a fresh challenge, even putting together a CV for the first time.

"In 1956 my Dad started in the shop where my brother Gilbert is and he will still be trading. My Mum and Dad set it up.

"Myself, my sisters Collette, Michelle and Yvonne, we were in the shop a lot. The other brothers were in and out.

"When I was in boarding school, Collette would have worked here everyday after school. This is what we did.

"I had to do a CV this week. I've never had to do a CV in my life! That's the way it goes."

There are a number of reasons business has been difficult in the last few years. It hadn't looked as though it would improve anytime soon, which led Tony to his decision.

"Online (shopping) certainly hasn't helped. The condition of the street (High Street) for the last ten years or so has been horrendous. I was holding on hoping that something would happen but no, it seems to be dead in the water for the moment.

"You'd have a period of construction when the work happens. I just decided, I've a 13-year-old daughter and I'd like to see her play a game on a Saturday like normally.

"I just decided I'd get out now if I could get looking for work and I'm going to try and get something Monday to Friday. I'm not sure. I made a mad decision, said it, and now there's no going back. If I had over-thought it I'd still be doing it," he added.

HE looks back fondly on the days when High Street was a constant hive of activity.

Located right next to the Savoy Cinema, the Henry's always did their best to capitalise on the huge crowds that would be queueing to go along to the cinema.

"It was buzzing. We had the Savoy here and my Dad wouldn't put up the shutters until the show had started because there would be queues going up past the shop and you had the boyfriend and girlfriend, and she's looking in the window of the shop and he'd come in at the weekend and put a deposit on it.

"Because people did that back then. We would have had a constant flow of people coming in paying stuff off until Christmas, the drawer was going the whole time with different deposits being paid.

"Then we had the secondary school students, they'd be in and out for grad presents. And when they got their grad presents they were familiar with you, you looked after them and you made a little but you made it often.

"Then you'd have them back for maybe the engagement ring and then the wedding ring. You worked the long game.

"Now it seems to be everything is instant, it's clinical. I don't like it."

Times have changed hugely for businesses. Competing with multinationals and online only companies has become increasingly different.

And Tony feels that small businesses like his own could probably do with a bit more assistance. He says small businesses are not being helped by the Government.

"We're not helped (enough) by the government. I'm told by the couriers who deliver that every night there's between eight and 15 cages in the postals, all from China. Free post, which does not make sense.

"If I order something as a business I have to pay expensive courier fees. You can order your iPhone cover for €4 and it will come from China.

"It does not make sense. Until someone has to pay for that, it's not going to happen for us. There should be someone there whacking duty, customers don't want to hear that but it's the reality.

"Someone has to pay for it. Someone is losing out somewhere. They have to do something to support the smaller guy.

"If a factory was to close here tomorrow there would be 200 jobs or something gone. There would be war.

"If you tot up how many independent retailers have closed up in the last three years, there's a hell of a factory. And not a word."

An emotional Tony admits that the decision was tough, but he tries not to think too much about it.

"Totally. If I don't think about it too much, it's fine," he said.

The repairs side of his busy has been easy, but he has increasingly found himself fixing poorer quality items which customers have bought online. That, he says, is a slap in the face.

"I've been very busy at repairs, that's been good. But the retail side has fallen away. There's a lot of 'I bought this online can you take three links out of it, I bought this ring online can you fix the stone in it'.

"I often say 'would you not send it back to where you get it from' and they'll say they couldn't be bothered.

"So not only are you not making the sale but you're also having to tweak it, so it's a slap in your face once again.

"The people don't see it. Some of the young people seem to be callous, to a degree. They don't see an issue with it. I just decided I don't want to do that anymore."

There has been an outpouring of support for Tony since he announced he would be closing. That support reminds him of why he enjoyed running the business, but now he's just looking forward to the next step.

"It's been incredible. You'd nearly feel like starting up again! I'm really excited for next year. I think for the first month or two my wife has a load of painting and stuff to be done around the house.

"I'm looking forward to it. I just want to make sure, anyone who has repairs in and hasn't picked them up, I will be here, that's not an issue. I'll be here.

"People will be contacted and there will be a note on the door with contact details or personal message me on Facebook.

"My brother is continuing next door so there will still be a Henry on High Street. He's kept busy. I'd like to thank my Mum and my sisters for all their help, and my family and of course all of my customers down through the years."

Sligo Champion