End of an era as the Last Corner Shop closes: ‘I’m going to cry’

John Hyland’s devotion to his customers made him a much-loved shopkeeper

Dun Leary’s Last Corner Shop: John Hyland in his corner store. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

“Everything changes,” says John Hyland. At 69, the newsagent is retiring after 35 years in his well-known shop on the corner of George’s Street Upper and Clarinda Park West in Dún Laoghaire, in south Co Dublin.

The crowded shelves and stacks and racks of newspapers and magazines have been gradually depleting, and over the weekend and into Monday a steady stream of regulars, of all ages, have been coming in for their papers and to wish Hyland well.

As he courteously thanks people for their custom, he seems quietly surprised at the reaction to his departure. “Some I wouldn’t even know by sight. I have lovely customers. When I do a little thing, get something they’re looking for, they’re so grateful.”

John Hyland may have been both the worst shopkeeper in Ireland and one of the best. Whether some customers had the money to buy what they wanted didn't seem to bother Hyland too much: he always put them first

The sign over the shop reads Dun Leary’s Last Corner Shop: A Service Newsagent. His wares have been spread on to the footpath, on makeshift tables and racks, since well before Covid made it a popular approach. He has stocked an astonishing range of publications: regional papers from every county in Ireland, Le Monde, the New York Review of Books. If you couldn’t find it at Eason you could probably find it at John’s (as locals call the shop), from 5am until 2.30am every day of the year. As well as sweets and cigarettes, there’s a small range of other goods, from cornflakes to condoms to cat food.

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At 69 John Hyland is retiring after 35 years running his well-known shop in Dún Laoghaire. Video: Enda O'Dowd

Hyland has been a newsagent for 49 years – “or it could be 50” – starting in Kilmainham, in central Dublin, and moving to Dún Laoghaire in 1971 or 1972. (He’s not sure.) He was across the road in Alex’s Lucky Lotto Newsagent for years. (There was an Alex once, but “I never told anyone that, I just said I’m Alex. For years they all called me Alex.”) He sold it for “a good price” 16 or 17 years ago. “They all thought it was a smart move, but the banks were looking for money.”

He then bought the lease for the tiny corner shop, which expired a couple of years ago. “I’m not a great businessman,” he says. “My father once said to me, in business you have to love money. I’m not a great lover of money.”

John Hyland may in fact have been both the worst shopkeeper in Ireland and one of the best. The dichotomy is encapsulated in the dictum that you should put the customer first. Whether some customers actually had the money to buy what they wanted didn’t seem to bother Hyland too much: he always put them first.

Dun Leary’s Last Corner Shop: John Hyland is retiring today. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Dún Laoghaire and social media have buzzed with stories about his many quiet kindnesses and seeming lack of business acumen. People talked about the old lady up the road, stuck for basic groceries, who racked up a four-figure tab before she died; single parents discreetly passed parcels of essentials; kids gifted bars of near-sell-by-date chocolate; addicts tossed a pack of cigarettes. “Pay me when you can,” Hyland would mutter.

Someone else puts it another, altogether harsher way: “He’s a soft touch for any chancer who walks in off the street, and that’s why the shop simply doesn’t work. It would actually make more money if it was closed.”

Hyland himself tells a story of a woman he gave the odd thing to when she was stuck, and who then came in to buy Playboy – “It was £5 in 1996” – for her son, and, Hyland says, “I knew: Ireland’s not poor any more.”

Playboy being legalised is one memory – “I couldn’t believe people would want to buy it” – as is an issue of Vincent Browne’s Magill about the Arms Trial that distributors wouldn’t handle but some newsagents did. “The Stardust was the biggest amount of papers we ever sold. But over the last 20 years, news doesn’t sell newspapers. The budget stopped selling papers seven or eight years ago. Since Covid, Saturday papers have gone way up, and Sundays a little. And for dailies the sales stopped falling over the last two years, in this shop anyway.” Newspapers are his passion. “I love the news industry.”

Dun Leary’s Last Corner Shop: ‘It gets a bit addictive. I never want to let down customers,’ says John Hyland. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

He says his family want him to retire, concerned about his long hours. “But it gets a bit addictive. I never want to let down customers.” He enjoys people coming in and out, though. “I’m a rather quiet person. I’m not terribly outgoing.”

“Where am I going to get the Farmers Journal and the Longford Leader now?” asks Michelle Shaughnessy on Monday, among a small queue outside. “I’m going to cry.”

Hyland talks about buying an electric bike and doing the Barrow greenway. “I’ll enjoy the freedom, but I’ll miss the customers.” He’ll continue to deliver papers locally, and the shop will reopen in a couple of weeks; Rahul Mahajan, who has worked there part time, is taking over.

For a huge cross section of local people it’s the end of an era. There has been an outpouring of respect and affection for this funny, kind, diffident man, who has given a helping hand to so many and never sought anything in return. His shop may have been ramshackle, chaotic and unprofitable, but John Hyland can go into well-deserved retirement with something no amount of money can buy.