02 Oct 2022

'We're a dying breed' Laois shop owner on her decision to close

'We're a dying breed' Laois shop owner on her decision to close

Sinéad Horan outside her family shop in Mountmellick. Photo: Kevin Byrne

The owner of a family run shop in Laois that has closed after 63 years, says Irish main streets are dying in the face of bigger competition.

Sinéad Horan who took on her parents' shop Ó Horáins in Mountmellick in the 1980s, has closed it down to retire, with none of her family in a position to take it over.

Ó Horáins was one of those shops that many towns take for granted. It stayed open until 10pm, seven days a week, selling a range of goods including jewellery, watch batteries, sweets, milk, theatre tickets, china, toys, newspapers, masscards, wool and stationery. It was beloved for its 99s and always welcomed posters in the window for local events.  The only day it closed was Christmas day. 

Speaking frankly to the Leinster Express, she said the pleasure in the business had gone, and the stress was too much.

“The face of retail has changed so much in Ireland. The start of the death of the Main Street was the Post Office moving to SuperValu. I could see that in my till fairly quickly. People could see it on the street. It seems to me it is a Government policy. In any town it’s happened it’s killed the Main Street. The Government is allowing life to be pulled out. 

“Mine wasn’t an economic decision. It’s just the pleasure is gone out of it for me. I do feel sorry for the town but I have to manage my stress and health,” she said.

Below, Sinead and her staff ahead of closure. Photo: Kevin Byrne.

Covid forced earlier closing times adding a nail in the coffin. Sinéad once had 12 staff but in recent years it had reduced to five including herself.

“People are upset to see a family run business close. We’re a dying breed. In time there will be very few left in small to medium sized towns. The likes of family run sports shops, shoe shops. Banks aren’t lending to retail with Covid, other than if they are part of a big group,” she said.

She said that a chain shop that opening next door in the old Shaws shop “didn’t help” because they were selling the same type of goods.

“Unless you are a destination shop, bringing people into town, they take from the same pie and it hits everyone. Shaw's closing was a big factor too. People used to come from Kildare and Offaly to it, then they would go down to Cox’s to get the menswear. 

“Soon there’ll be nothing on Main Street other than chain shops, betting shops and pubs. The day of walking up and looking in the windows is dying. Sales reps have said to me that retail has changed and will never come back,” the shop owner said.

Her family supported her decision to retire and close up shop.

Her parents Martin and Rose had opened in 1958 when petrol pumps were also part of the income.

“I am extremely proud to have carried on their tradition. It was never just about making money, it was about helping people. Even Kitty said to me, ‘we should be paid by the Government to stay open’, we were like social workers. We always had time for people, to tell us how they are. 

“I’ve had fantastic staff over the years. A lot of them went on to do really well in their careers, and they put it down to the experience and confidence they gained here. I will miss all my customers and friends and the girls in the shop,” Sinéad Horan said.

Not quite at retiring age, Sinéad has a plan up her sleeve for a different career.

“When everything is sorted, I have been asked by the Parish Priest and others to write a book of my experiences. I do have plenty of funny stories. I’ve a great memory and a friend who is ready to ghostwrite it so I will be seriously looking at that. 

“There has been huge good will from people. Some have walked out of the shop crying. They have shared memories of my parents, reminiscing to when we were kids. They are bringing in cards and even presents."

The premises will not reopen as a shop she said.  O Horáins shop closed on New Year’s Eve, but reopens briefly this Thursday and Friday January 6 and 7 for a final sale.

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