The Pen Corner closes its doors after 94 years in business
He’s served everyone from ordinary Dubs to the legendary Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, but the owner of The Pen Corner has said he had “no choice” but to shut up shop.
John Fitzgerald, whose family founded the business almost 100 years ago, described the closure of his iconic shop as “a bereavement for Dublin”.
He also agrees with panto Queen Twink’s recent comments when she branded Dublin city centre “a kip”.
The Pen Corner, located in a landmark building at the junction of College Green and Trinity Street, was established by his great aunt Florence O’Brien and her husband Paddy in 1927.
Over the decades, it has provided speciality pens, ink, accessories and stationery to leading names in literature, film and music – from John Banville and Brian Friel, to Elvis Costello and Grace Kelly – as well as ordinary Dubliners.
Mr Fitzgerald once served the late Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, although he admits he didn’t know who he was at the time.
More recently, high-profile customers have included Lana Wachowski, one of the writers behind The Matrix series of films.
Mr Fitzgerald, the third generation of his family to run the shop, told Independent.ie he made the “sickeningly difficult” decision to close after the business struggled to recover from Covid-19 restrictions.
Annual rent of €75,000, supply chain issues and reduced footfall in the city were also factors, he said.
“We were paying half our rent during the pandemic, but when we agreed to go back to full rent, all our capital reserves were gone,” he said. “We had no choice but to withdraw early from our lease agreement.
“Small family businesses like ours create employment, they’re not about profit. My main concern is for staff.
“We’re hoping to keep people on when we build an online presence, but we are restricted by contracts with suppliers.”
With The Pen Corner currently operating on a “week-by-week” basis, Mr Fitzgerald said his main focus is on shutting down the shop.
“It’s a job in itself trying to wind down a business,” he said. “At the moment, we are getting the emotional wave from our customers.
“A lot of the sentiment relates to people’s memories of Dublin in the rare old times. Customers are welling up in front of me – it’s like a bereavement for Dublin.”
While there has been an outpouring of sympathy and support for the shop’s owner and staff on social media, the news has also been met with anger.
Last week, panto queen Twink said the loss of The Pen Corner was “the saddest of closures” and lashed out at Dublin city centre, describing it as “a kip” – an opinion shared by Mr Fitzgerald.
“I can walk 10 yards out my door and see middle-aged men injecting children with drugs,” he said. “Tourists coming to Dublin don’t want to witness drug addiction.
“Shopkeepers are closest to the people on the street. Over the course of the past number of years, you have been basically watching people die.
“In welcoming customers, you are also opening your door to lunatics and gougers. I’ve had needles put to my throat and been kicked in the head.”
Mr Fitzgerald said he has no concerns about the closure in terms of his family’s legacy and is “not sure yet” if he will miss the shop.
“I will miss aspects of it but I’m not sure about Dublin anymore,” he said. “I love the city centre but I hate seeing what is happening to it.”