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Early Years in Retail by Marcella McBride

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Marcella McBride

Marcella McBride

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The youngest of seven, reared a few streets from the town centre of Dundalk, it was expected that I help out in the shop on Earl Street. For me , from day one, it was a delight, a treasure trove of activity, delivery people, travelling salesmen and customer comings and goings. It was no ordinary shop. At the back my father had an office. He was an agent with the Evening Herald and the Irish Independent. People would call to the office to place an ad in the Independent, usually a birth, death or marriage, not necessarily in that order. In one corner of his little office was the euphemistically called cupboard, for staff coats, umbrellas, a few shelves holding a miscellaneous collection of cups, some cracked, spoons, a packet of sugar, a canister of tea and a few biscuits. Cleanliness was not given much thought and these items were washed in cold water at a tap in the yard. In another corner of the office there was a huge big noisy printer that would send down latest news, sports fixtures and results, etc. from Dublin. The print out would be taken down the yard at the rear of the shop to be attached to another large printer. When the Evening Heralds were collected from the train they would have two blank panels at the back of the front page and these would then have the latest news printed on the panels. It was a noisy place with more and hectic as the papers were then tied up for delivery via the back gate which led into Francis St. to various buses at the Bus Station at the Square.

We sold greeting cards of every sort which needed constant sorting, paper clipping, pricing and replacing. One section of our shop had religious goods, and as part of that space, a stern solid woman guarded her area meticulously, watched staff that might in her opinion, need ticking off and did the shops accounts. Another area had books , magazines and papers, while the gift and toy corner housed Dinky toys, sets of classy notepaper, Parker and Sheaffer fountain pens and pen and pencil sets. In the dark dank basement, reached via creaky wooden stairs, toys were on display in the months before Christmas, and once chosen and set aside, were wrapped in brown paper which came on a huge roll with a blade to slice off a portion, given a name and number from the Christmas Club log and stored in the back downstairs room. When staff needed a comfort break, for want of a better word, they had to take a key and go to the top of the stairs next door to use the toilet shared with several offices there. Archaic is a word that comes to mind!

Earl Street, named after the Earl of Roden, was part of the main artery for traffic going from the North to Dublin and was always busy. I thought the nearby square was the centre of the universe in my young years as it was full of life and business. On our side of Earl St. were the Dundalk Democrat offices next door where my grandfather had been editor and my aunt and father also worked there well past retirement age. Next was Mc Kennas menswear and Mc Kennas lived a few doors from us in St Marys Rd. RQ O’Neills was a glamorous gift and hardware shop down from ours, it had a tiny shop next to it that sold only cigarettes, cigars, tobacco and other paraphernalia to do with smoking. At the corner was the Queens Hotel which as you might imagine had seen better days but was still a majestic looking building looking out on two streets and of course, The Square. To the left of our shop was the Home and Colonial , a delicatessen before we knew that term, where Cheddar cheese wrapped in greaseproof paper was regularly bought for my father. Next door to that was Mc Canns fruit shop, later to grow into hugely successful Fyffes Bananas. Above our shop was the Royal Liver Insurance co, and Miss Teresa Murphys Commercial Studies school.
Margaret Mc Cusker ran a wee shop across the road (still there with a preservation order but sadly recently closed when the last family member ceased trading). Next door to her was Maloccas , run by an Irish Italian family with exotic first names and looks to go with them. (Black Peter, Yolanda and Camillo to name but a few). Next door was Delia Murphy, who ran a perfect Chemist shop. Watters Bakery was the best spot, not only for buns for the tea break and crusty Bloomers but also for the magic of their Doughnut maker in the corner of the window and all stood salivating as they watched the doughnuts fall into the sugar, get tossed around and emptied onto a tray. It was SO American and there was no other contraption like it in the town. Carolans ran the first ever grocery turned Supermarket with baskets and separate checkouts. We thought it very cosmopolitan and city like.

Still in Earl Street was the Espresso Bar, though not one knew what espresso meant. It was upstairs with huge picture windows looking onto the street and the Square and massive plants along the inside of the window. People out doing daily shopping and local business people would meet there for coffee. After school there was a deluge of uniformed school girls and boys getting a milky coffee and Cadbury’s Snack, before heading back to obligatory study session at school. It was “de rigeur” to purchase our Christmas presents from the shops around ours, so cigars, socks and Old Spice for the men folk and diaries, books and Yardley for the females. My friend left school early to work in Woolworths on Clanbrassil St. and used to give us an extra amount of broken Caramac biscuits when we would ask for a quarter pound, ample snack for a group heading in to study. Everyone knew everyone, customers and retail staff, drivers and salesmen, country and town folk, young and old.

(c) Marcella McBride

About the author

I am a retired Social Worker having worked both sides of the border. I have had an interesting life which involved amongst other things, living with a French family ,living in San Francisco with my sister, working with a Homeless Charity in London and after meeting my husband in Glencree, taking a leap of faith to move to Northern Ireland in the 70s where we remain, having reared our family just north of the border and spending a lot of our time on Arranmore Island in Donegal. I am interested in a sense of place and time in history and enjoy doing outdoor work as a National Trust volunteer . I have always kept a journal and easily communicate through letter writing. Since joining a Memoir Writing Group at U3A(University of the Third Age ) I have thoroughly enjoyed developing a whimsical style of writing and hope to leave my story in print for future generations.

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