We Sell Books: From Lego to philosophy, variety is key for Universal Books in Letterkenny

We Sell Books: From Lego to philosophy, variety is key for Universal Books in Letterkenny
David Faughnan owns Universal Books in Letterkenny, Co Donegal.

David Faughnan owns Universal Books in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. The shop sells books, records, musical instruments, antiques and various other items, writes Marjorie Brennan.

How long are you in business?

I have had the shop since 1996. I did fairs for four or five years before that.

How did you get into it?

I was doing it straight out of school; we put an ad in the local newspaper and we were buying record collections from people’s houses. My first ever record fair was in Belfast. Myself and another fella went up, we had one stall, and we sold out the entire table. In the middle of it all, the British Army came in and raided the hall; they arrested a guy from Scotland who was selling bootleg CDs. I was totally hooked from there, I thought it was so exciting.

About four years later, I met a guy at a wedding who bought and sold records for a living. He brought me to England and introduced me to a load of suppliers, and then I opened the shop.

What challenges have you faced?

The record shop was a flier and then in 2007/8, there was a massive crash. We had a record shop, a book shop and an office at that point, with guys just selling on eBay for us. We basically just lost everything, it all went down the tube. What survived out of it was myself and John Brennan, who works with me, going part-time.

How is business now?

It has picked up. The recession was long enough, my God. It hasn’t gone back to the way it was in 2004/5, when it was brilliant.

We are smarter, the way we are dealing with it now. We had a lot of staff, we have kept it small and easy and we have diversified a lot. We have been travelling around England and Ireland, picking up oddities… I’ve got a firefighter’s helmet from America hanging from the ceiling, with Italian lamps, and gas masks from World War II.

We are in an age when you can hit a button and order anything you want, but we have made our shop unique. One of my last sales today was a kid buying a Lego set, then a guy came in and bought two books on philosophy. Customers also come in and tell us their problems, we are kind of a social hub. It’s a great place to work, we are so lucky. It is easy to sell what you love.

What is Letterkenny like to do business in?

We Sell Books: From Lego to philosophy, variety is key for Universal Books in Letterkenny
David Faughnan with staff member John Brennan, and David’s partner Treasa McKeown who also works there.

We are part of the Church Lane Cathedral Quarter; there were plans to knock it all down but Donnan Harvey, secretary of our local community group, has been amazing in rejuvenating the lane.

He has done the work of ten people in terms of heritage. We begged and borrowed and got the streets cleaned up. We borrowed a hose from a Traveller community family down the road, and we cleaned all the footpaths, people donated paint, we put flowers out, and now it is such a change from the street that was dying. It has been a huge success story.

Has the Wild Atlantic Way had a positive impact on business?

That was a genius stroke. It really helped Donegal, it has been fantastic. Everybody involved should get a pint. The number of people that come through now is wonderful.

What do you enjoy most about working in the shop?

Every day is different. I was over in Dunfanaghy three or four weeks ago, and I bought a poitín still. Who else gets to do that? You never know who would come through the door. Before he passed away in 2018, Patsy Dan, the King of Tory, would come in a bit, and sign books for us. We loved the craic of him, he was such an ambassador for Donegal. One of the Bee Gees was in once. We had a signed Rory Gallagher record on the wall, and he said ‘oh, that’s so cool, would you like me to sign something?’. The only problem was we had no bloody Bee Gees stuff in the shop, all we had of them was a cassette tape that was reduced to 50p. What a shame.

Do you have any book recommendations?

A book that I really enjoyed in the last while is One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson, it is a belter of a book. My partner Treasa [McKeown], who works in the shop with me, would recommend The Girls by Emma Cline; she bought it on holiday, read it and then read it twice again. John would recommend Angels with Dirty Faces by Jonathan Wilson, about the history of Argentinian football; and The Hard Stuff by Wayne Kramer, which is about [Detroit proto-punk group] MC5.


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