The Watts Brothers's business on Ormond Quay thrived in the days when huntin', shootin' and fishin' were popular pastimes for Dubliners. Business was so good for the three brothers - Patrick, Johnny and Billy - that in 1969 they moved their gun and tackle business from a small shop in Abbey Street to the large three-storey premises on the quays.
The entire building cost them £8,000. Sometime before that, Patrick's son, Bobby, joined the family firm as an apprentice gunsmith and he is now retiring and selling the building. Lisney is handling the sale of the 4,300 sq. ft corner building at 18 Upper Ormond Quay. The guide price is in excess of £700,000 in advance of the auction on March 2nd.
The original Watts Brothers certainly needed more space. At one time, they employed a dozen women who were engaged in the intricate and highly skilled business of tying flys. The brothers imported exotic feathers from all over the world and the women worked away making Hairy Marys, Silver Doctors, Boyne Blues and the hundreds of other varieties of fishing flies that were in heavy demand, not just from their own customers but from tackle shops throughout the country. Like his brothers, Bobby's father worked behind the counter well into his eighties and of the original trio, only Billy is still alive.
"Cheap Asian imports killed the fly-tying end of the business," says Bobby Watts, "and the amount of insurance and security you'd need to sell guns nowadays meant that there came a point that selling them simply wasn't worth it."
Since 1998, Bobby has concentrated on the fishing end of the trade. Alongside the plastic duck decoys, bows and arrows, pilchard oil and stuffed animals that line the shelves are notices about the next carp, society meeting as well as essential green wellies and tackle bags. But, he says, fishing is in decline on the east coast, thanks mainly to fears of pollution. As for hunting, he says, there simply aren't any open spaces left. In the nineties the shop's windows were broken, reputedly by animal rights protesters, and Bobby saw the writing on the wall for his specialist shop.
Bobby thinks the ground floor would make a great pub - with its high ceilings (currently hidden behind a false ceiling), decorative doors and old world atmosphere. Before the Watts arrived it was a B&B but before that Bobby thinks it was a pub. The last Watts to work in the business is fatalistic about the next likely tenants of the building. "Solicitors on the ground floor and apartments overhead," he says firmly, "that's the way the quays have gone. The parking situation means that it'll never be a shop again."