One of the longest-established family businesses in Drogheda, Co Louth has closed its doors for the last time after 104 years and three generations in the same family.
Niall Kierans, joint proprietor of Kierans' Deli, on West Street, the main shopping thoroughfare, said the decision to close had been made before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“It was a hard decision to make, it was not easy, and yet having said that, when we see where the economy is likely to go and knowing we are probably going to slip into recession again, I am not too sure any of us want to be facing another two or three years of the hardship that might bring.”
“It is better to check out three years too early than three weeks too late,” he added.
His children do not want to continue in the business. “It was never their thing. They want to pursue different careers. I see it happening in other businesses too, the kids do not want to go into it, they don’t see the quality of life in it that they want to have.
“I would not want them in retail; long ago I was quite clear on this, I did not want our kids going into this, I could see what was coming down the tracks. It was only heading in one direction. It is a sad day, but I think we made the right decision.”
The landscape of retail has changed in the town, too. He said that prior to the Celtic Tiger's "imploding", two retail parks had been built along with two shopping centres, Lidl and Aldi arrived and there are also additional outlets of Tesco and Dunnes.
“That alone has increased the retail footprint by 150 per cent but the population has not increased by the same amount.”
‘It does not stack up’
Customers expect the same high standards they are used to, but he said, they also want it “at a low price, and it does not stack up. You need to get better margins.”
This, he added, is in addition to rising overheads and energy costs. “Our next electricity bill will be €5,000. All overheads are going to ratch up. Retail is tough and to survive in retail you have to be big or specialise – if you are neither you will struggle.”
In relation to Covid, he said “the Government did all it could to keep small businesses in operation. The supports were excellent. We made this decision before Covid struck.”
Mr Kierans believes the decision to close his family business will be replicated elsewhere. “We are facing what I describe as a retail demographic time bomb. Most of us are of a similar age and we are all going to drop dead or retire at the same time – very few of our kids want to follow on, and I think nationally and globally we will see a fair clean-out of family business in retail and hospitality.”
Among the customers who made their last purchases today were Paula McDonnell, who has been going there since the 1960s. “I feel very sad. You never went in or went out without meeting somebody with a smile and were always well looked after. I think everybody feels the same. You got the genuine article, the human touch.”
Kathleen Branigan (75), has been a customer since she married at 18 and moved to Drogheda. "It was the first deli I ever went into. Everyone in it was always civil to you. The food was always perfect. You go to supermarkets now and it is not the same. Here they always treated you with respect. You got the same treatment if you were spending €2 as if you were spending fortune. I will miss it shocking."
Also going in for the last time were Aisling Stafford and Andrew McMahon. Aisling said: "It has been a fixture in the town, you could not walk across West Street without putting your head in. Everyone who works around here goes in for their lunch. It will be a loss."
Debbie Donnelly has worked there for 33 years and said her parents met while working for the family. When Debbie started working in the kitchen she said when it was busy in the shop, "they would say 'Come up and put on the white coat to serve'. I started in the white coat 33 years ago so I will finish in it today!"
Mr Kierans also reflected on the future of town centres, saying that as a child in the 1970s he could see that people needed to be living above shops.
“It is the model on the continent and it works. We have modelled ourselves on the UK and US where it does not work and we have decimated our town centres. We are ripping up green fields on the peripheries of towns to put in new houses and the owners have to have a car to commute into towns and yet it is proven people like to live centrally.
“I think if people live downtown they will shop downtown. I think the future of our town centres will most likely be hospitality and leisure, the old model was solely retail and very little leisure.”