End of an era as the Cloth Hall set to close in coming months
A LANDMARK DRAPERY SHOP WHICH HAS SERVED GENERATIONS OF LOCAL PEOPLE IS CLOSING ITS DOORS IN THE COMING MONTHS MARKNG THE END OF AN ERA IN THE TOWN’S LIFE, WRITES DAVID LOOBY
THE CLOTH HALL in New Ross is closing its doors having clothed generations of families in the area.
A shopping institution over three floors, the clothes and household goods shopping emporium is run by Paddy and Elizabeth Walsh.
Paddy began working in the drapery business, which was run by his father Paddy, in his teens and was handed the keys when he was 18, shortly after he finished his studies at St Peter’s College.
Forty eight years later he is planning to close the shop, the gruelling six day weeks being one of the main reasons.
Standing in the step-down area between the ground and the basement floor, Paddy, as enthusiastic and engaging as ever, smiles as he recalls his time running The Cloth Hall and The Club bar on Quay Street.
Ever since he put up the ‘Closing Down Sale’ sign he has been inundated with well wishers and bargain hunters.
‘I loved every minute of it and we would have loved to still be here if I had more time off. Six days a week probably did it,’ Paddy says.
‘I was always quite content here. I had a good living out of the place. I am 66 now. You are also coming in a lot of different changes with PAYE and PRSI coming in this January.’
Formerly The Ross Bank, the four story Cloth Hall, which is listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage 1870-1880, has been a drapery business for over a century, having formerly been French and Haydens.
‘ They sold everything. I have Appro books downstairs from 1929 and a typewriter that printed receipts from the early 1900s. It was a completely different shape of shop. Paddy Hayden lived upstairs and the kitchen were downstairs. It was literally upstairs, downstairs. There was a shop on the second floor in that time also.’
Paddy was an only son so the decision to go into business was ‘made for me’, as he says.
‘It wasn’t a bad decision. Business was in the blood. My father had a pub in Charles Street called The Central Bar where Brook’s jewellers shop is; that is where I was reared. I would have come up here from there. My father had the business from the early Sixties. At that time there was a lot of shops in town Hickey’s, Conran’s, Hanrick’s and Anglim’s on the quay. It was a busy town and there was no internet!’
A lack of cars on the roads dictated the busyness of the shops in New Ross.
‘People couldn’t move out of the town. They stayed and shopped local. My father let me run the business. It was a vibrant town like all rural towns. People didn’t move outside. The calf mart was here on Charles Street back in the 50s and 60s. The farmers would pull up in their little scut trucks and pull out the calves and sell them. Money wasn’t plentiful in the 50s and 60s.’
Saturday night trading was the busiest time for anyone in retail in the town because people came in to do their weekly shopping on the Saturday. ‘ That type of trade was done for years before my time as well and that trade was carried on until the early Seventies.’
The Cloth Hall sold everything ‘from an achor to a needle’, including children’s wear, school wear, household goods and bedding – all over three floors. ‘ We used to cover dress suits when people were getting married and do tuxedoes. A lot of the weddings now are very spruced up, that is a trade on it own.’
Paddy and Elizabeth have been a constant presence in the shop, immaculately dressed and always willing to advise their customers about the ‘proper item’ of clothing.
Paddy always had staff, some of whom worked with him and Elizabeth for many years. ‘ We always needed staff because you learn from other people and I would have learned from the staff who were here.’
One constant Paddy found throughout their time is how customers enjoy good service. ‘People still like to be served. They like interaction. Some people working in shops don’t seem to have the interest. I have people depend on me to sell them the proper item. If they are looking to go to a wedding and they depend on me to sell them the best garment I can find for them. You should always think of the customers and you should never buy for yourself. Just because you like it doesn’t mean you’ll actually sell it.
‘Customers still depend on you. A lot of the younger customers are equally as interested in being served as the older customers over the years. A lot of people, especially with young mothers looking for items for their children for school, you are selling them what they want and they are very happy, rather than going in to a department store picking up something, they don’t know whether it is right or it is wrong, but you will actually make sure that it is right or as right as you can make it. In general in small towns most shops would have interest in their customers.’
The Cloth Hall stood the test of time throughout recessions but the biggest threat to its survival was when the council dug up South Street to lay sewerage pipes. ‘ The road was dug up in the Seventies and the town was like a bomb hit it. It dragged on for months. There were a lot of businesses which really felt the pressure. The council is not responsible to anyone. There was noone put up their hand to take the blame for it. There was literally a 6ft trench the whole way up the main street and mounds of earth on either side. We were down 70, 80 per cent in business. There was no access so all the country trade was affected. People travelled
I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT AND WE WOULD STILL LOVE TO BE HERE. IT TOOK ME DAYS TO PUT UP THE CLOSING SIGN
to Wexford or Enniscorthy. That was probably the worst. I had a pub at that stage as well on Quay Street where Mr H’s is so I wasn’t too bas as financially The Club kept me afloat.’
At that time there was nearly a pub on every corner in New Ross. Paddy was working about 100 hours a week between the pub and the Cloth Hall, getting a few hours shut eye each night in his living quarters over the pub. He was involved in the trader’s association in the early days and New Ross Rugby Club between playing and running the lotto and distribution of tickets.
The recessions of the Eighties and Noughties didn’t affect business significantly. ‘ You would always be affected by recessions but it didn’t cause me any strife. You would notice trade dropping with the economy. I was never really under severe pressure. Pressure is only for tyres.’
Paddy said if he were to be given the opportunity to open a business again in New Ross he would jump at the opportunity because of all of the opportunities that will will flow the opening of the new bridge and motorway next year. ‘I would do it differently now as it’s different times. I wouldn’t mind. I have no regrets about going in to business. It’s not that hard except when something that is out of your control happens like the streets being dug up. I was looking at Wexford town one day. I was driving up from the old courthouse and there used to be a very good general shop and the council decided to stop the traffic from running over past the door and it closed it. With the stroke of a county manager’s pen you could be closed. They tell you it’s for the benefit of the town like the bollards at Quay Street but if you miss the turn up here for Charles Street you are gone out of the town, it’s anti-business. I think the new bridge and motorway system is really, really going to benefit the town. If I was starting again that would be the big plus. It would take all the rubbish traffic out of the town. 95 per cent of it will be gone. The car traffic that is not staying in town will be gone as well. They will have to open up that intersection again so if they are opening up that intersection again they have made the wrong decision in closing it. In terms of the council what’s wrong is right.’
He said New Ross has always had a strong business community. ‘People who are interested in the businesses of the town. They are in the trader’s association for the betterment of the town and for the betterment of themselves. We had very few negative people. Negative people don’t last anyway.’
He will miss the banter and the satisfaction of serving customers exactly what they need, saying closing the shop in the coming months will be very difficult, at times.
‘ There are a lot of people who would have bought through the years let it be school-wear or formal wear. The internet shopping has done the most damage; it’s crazy. It was a hard decision to make. To go ahead and actually stick up the sign. It took me two days to put it up. I came in one day with the intention of doing it but I couldn’t. It’s a hard thing to do. I put 48 years into the place.’
Paddy and Elizabeth in The Cloth Hall.
Paddy and Elizabeth Walsh