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

New Ross Standard - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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