by Colm Croffy
After some five decades on Dunlo St. and nearly two decades on Main St., brothers Pat and John are hanging up their business boots and retiring. Both men were raised in a family farm in Aughrim. John the elder went to farming with an uncle while brother Pat decided to lease a going concern business, known as “Holloways Restaurant” in Dunlo St.
Motor Rallying enthusiast Pat married his love Ellen – a domestic Science Teacher, and between them and six of a staff they managed and ran the Restaurant from 1968 to 1973.
The town of the 70’s was a shopping spot and there were some 3,000 people directly employed in factories and healthcare. Jim Burke returned from the States in the 60’s and opened the town’s first dry cleaning business and Pat saw the need for another similar business. “People can’t imagine the level of commercial activity that was here in the 70’s, 80’s and much of the 90’s – we can remember queues of customers in a line, on a Friday evening out the door, collecting garments. We’d be working till the early hours of the morning to cope with demand” states Pat.
Over the decades they reared a family of three, Paddy who manages the Locksmith business in Athlone, assisted by Niamh and Owen. In the early 90’s Pat expanded the business into key cutting, as well as specialising as a locksmith lock and installing alarms. He developed that aspect of the business so much so that they expanded to another outlet, choosing Athlone as their new base. Two things in Pat’s view took the footfall off the principle streets by at least 50%. “The moving of Tesco from Sarsfield Road to Dunlo Harbour in 2004 and the introduction of pay parking when customers can rock up for free to new Multiples, have decimated numbers” states Pat.
He is sad to look out at the current state of Dunlo St. during the Big Dig and hopes it will come back to its former glory. “Planners are hell bent on fads. I can see it again in Athlone, where they are pedestrianising the main street. Our town is not for strollers - it’s for the Rural hinterland to come to get their messages and services in their car. I hope they return the streets back sympathetically to the heritage and find a new parking system that allows the down town business to compete fairly with the out of town multiples.”
Looking back, he laughs at being 50 years this Autumn, in business seeing off three bank strikes, three currencies and numerous recessions and highs “My favourite currency was the LSD, but seriously for this town to get moving with its centre it needs jobs – some cluster of new factories or a Govt. Agency is vital” urges Pat. Pat will continue helping out his son Paddy as a Locksmith consultant but is really looking forward to spending more time on the golf course and with his family in the years ahead. John, after years of farming went into a forecourt business, first in Roscommon in 1995, but diverted his energies to a business that could co-exist with the Computer Training College that his wife Christina had built up. In 1999 he rented a premises off Mrs. Rothwell in Dunlo St. which became the town’s first Internet Café, with 10 computers, a small stationary store and some book binding. “People don’t recall but a computer weighed nearly 25 kgs, a printer machine could cost anything from £300 upwards and cartridges and toners were a scald to buy; there was no data roaming or emails coming into house never mind a basic phone less than 20 years ago” states John.
In 2002 he moved the business to Main St. (Rafter’s old store) and has remained there since. For John, not alone has the technology changed rapidly in the space of two decades, but those who are his core customers have as well. “I still get my students wanting their CV’s done or reports bound but what is most striking of all is the wonderful new nationalities that make up my customer base – Brazilians, Filipinos, Polish, Indians, Pakistanis and nearly every national from the EU have crossed my door in numbers these past few years” states John.
Over his time he and Christina reared their three offspring from their business in the town centre – Andreanna (Mallow), Natasha (Wexford) and Alan living locally. Whilst John is known and respected for his role in business in the town, it’s his association with the Agricultural Show for nigh on 60 years that singles him out. “Martin Joyce in Aughrim brought me to my first show in 1962 and got me on the committee in ’63 and don’t ask me why but I can’t seem to get away from it since” says John, who is current Chair of the Show Society.
For John looking back changes in on-street parking and customer use of online shopping have been huge stumbling blocks to. “Since 2011 the footfall has really gone off the streets and I don’t know if it will come back for our provincial towns but I had an enjoyable time meeting customers and providing services. I am looking forward to caring for Christine, keeping an eye out for the kids and the Show for the next few years” smiles John. Both men warmly thanked their hardworking staffs and loyal customers down through the years.
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