Architecture student Stephen Kelly got so fed up with overpriced rubbish student accommodation when he started at UCD, he took out a mortgage in 2014 and bought himself a former newsagent’s shop to live in.
Back then prices were still relatively affordable following the crash and shop properties in suburban areas were far cheaper than houses. Today our suburbs are filled with rows of jaded local shops that long ago found themselves at sixes and sevens in the modern world of shopping centres, supermarkets and online retail.
“When I started in first year I was paying silly money for an absolute kip in Rathmines. I thought ‘there has to be a better way.’”
Moate man Stephen’s family operate a development business in the midlands and his Dad encouraged him to look around for an opportunity. “The former newsagents shop had been shuttered up for years and it was located at one end of Bird Avenue with the college at the other end. You couldn’t get closer.”
The terrace of shops at the Bird Avenue junction of Dublin’s Dundrum Road is typical of those built when developers routinely added a retail terrace to compliment their housing developments.
The shops came with a big family residence located behind and over them because shop owners mostly lived at their premises. An average building had its shop floor space, ground floor storage, a ground floor living room and kitchen and upstairs two to three bedrooms and a bathrooms, with period house proportions.
Back in the 1970s, the first shop at the Dundrum end of the terrace was occupied by silver haired Naughton the grocer, usually found behind his counter scales in a tan shop coat with a biro perched behind his ear.
Next along was the fragrant and elegant Ms Hunter the pharmacist, with a pristine white medical coat and glasses on a chain.
Then Mr Hickey the upbeat butcher in his striped apron, sharpening his knives and having the craic. Then the tiny boutique Freckles, run by the daughter of the owners of the next shop along and sliced out of it for her business.
Buckleys was the ‘mini market’ where Mr Buckley’s station was behind the cold meats counter in his delicatessener’s hat while Mrs Buckley worked the till in her blue and white check shop coat. Finally, at No2 Bird Avenue in the vaguely L-shaped terrace, was Fox the Newsagent and Tobacconist.
The deeds suggest Rose Fox (nee Hartford) had grown up in the 1934-built shop with her sisters Theresa (known as Flower) and Clare. The shop changed little from then until it closed half a century later.
It had a door-mounted bell, mahogany counters and drawers, big wooden racks for magazines and papers and smelled of furniture polish and chocolate.
There was a high wall of jars of loose boiled sweets, an ice cream cabinet and neat stacks of cigarettes on the wall behind the counter. Gerard Fox, who worked with his wife, was a soft spoken, dapper man in smart suit jacket and tie. He totted up your bill with a pencil and used an oak cash drawer rather than a modern register.
Bright-eyed Rose slipped free sweets and comics into the pockets of children when their parents weren’t looking (causing her husband’s eyebrows to raise in comical faux disapproval). Chatty sisters Flower and Clare also mucked in.
Today, shops like this are let on low rents to accountants or solicitors, but the overhead spaces are often underutilised in times when people need homes.
Kelly for one saw the potential. “I got a mortgage with my Dad’s help and bought it. At that point the Foxs had passed on and the shutters were down.”
Sisters Flower and Clare (who was widowed) had moved in to share their childhood home again. By 2014 Flower had just passed on two years and Clare had moved into care. She died a year later. Both were in their eighties.
“They had converted the shop into their living room. So the old shop front was still on it,” says Stephen.
“I got in during the summer break and opened up the ground floor, added a modern living room extension at the back and converted the garage into a bedroom.
We built a large modern kitchen and put a more modern look on the frontage.
“I put in seven bedrooms because letting these to fellow students would pay the mortgage.”
Kelly loved his college years here and stayed afterwards. Two college-going siblings also got the benefit of it. Now he’s moved to Cork and is selling the B rated property on UCD’s doorstep for €775,000 through Owen Reilly.
It also includes two last vestiges of Fox’s: a newspaper rack and, aptly, Rose’s scales for measuring out loose sweeties.