Joyce's 'Irish homespun' shop to close

Sat, Jun 16, 2012, 01:00

ON THE day the world celebrates a literary hero and his author, a Dublin business James Joyce once worked for closes its doors for the last time after 124 years.

“Irony of ironies that we’re closing on Bloomsday, but it’s appropriate,” said Valerie Roche, managing director of Dublin Woollen Mills on the corner of Ormond Quay, facing the Ha’penny bridge.

The family run Dublin Woollen Mills’ most famous employee was an agent for the firm, selling Irish tweed in Trieste. On the wall of Ms Roche’s office above the shop are framed photos of the premises with an extract from a biography of Joyce, where he said he managed to clothe some of his Trieste male pupils “in Irish homespun”.

This was to the cost of the firm as copies of very polite correspondence from the Dublin Woollen Mills show, requesting that in future he pay for the samples sent.

The business, established in 1888, will not to go into another generation, despite trading profitably and being fully viable, with loyal staff, many there for decades.

Up to last year 22 staff were employed and most have already found alternative employment. The wholesale side of the business at Park West is also to close.

“The economic and social climate is no longer suitable for a single outlet family business,” said Ms Roche.

She speaks of the bureaucratic burden – “half our time is spent filling in forms” – and how it weighs on small businesses and family firms.

Ms Roche expresses concern at the Government’s approach to job creation, that it’s “Dell, Google, pharmaceuticals – they think they’re sorting the problem with the multinationals, but 80 per cent of people are, or used to be, employed in small business”.

But it has been a good business and she is happy that they will close in an honourable fashion having “rescued the pension fund and being able to pay everybody”.

It is also a business with loyal customers, many of whom have been in in the last few days to the haberdashery buying buttons and zips, wool and thread, patterns, woollens and fabrics.

One woman, a civil servant who works locally, and knits and crochets scarves and other woollens for her family, said: “I think it’s very sad because they were always lovely and very helpful here.”

Kay O’Kelly from Stillorgan in Dublin was surprised to hear it was closing down. “It’s one of the few places and a very good one” for haberdashery.

During the boom, Ms Roche says, “furnishing trim was our absolute top earner”, but now people have gone back to dressmaking and crafts, particularly knitting.

She points to the huge revival in the market trade and growth in small businesses run by women.

“Probably 25 per cent of our wholesale accounts are new accounts started in the last two or three years and 90 per cent of them are women.”

After 24 years in the business and closing the doors today – “an emotional time” – the former aid worker with Trócaire will now return to a previous life, working in Central America.