June O’Flynn manages Philip’s Bookshop on Main Street in Mallow, Co Cork, with her mother Catherine. It sells books, school supplies, stationery and gifts.
How long have you been in business?
We will be in business 30 years in November. Our 30th birthday is Saturday, November 2, and we’re going to have a massive party here in the shop.
Can you tell me more about how the business started?
It was started by my parents Philip and Catherine. My dad was an English teacher in Buttevant. He noticed a change in the schools curriculum, and that there was a gap in the market for a bookshop. He stayed teaching while mum opened the shop in Mallow. It started off with 400 square foot — we’ve had four moves in the last 30 years, and we’re up to 5,000 sq ft now.
How did you get into the business?
My mother ran the shop, and I have two sisters, and we used to work there during the summers and holidays. I got married 12 years ago, and went travelling around the world for a year. And then I was asked if I wanted to come back and work for the family business. Before that, I would never have thought of it but it was definitely the right move for me.
After that, we moved into our third premises, which was 2,500 sq ft and we were there until we moved into the new shop here last April. We have expanded the business and taken on lots of different things.
Tell us more about the new premises:
It was the second Dunnes Stores that was opened in Ireland; it was closed over 12 years ago and the building had been sitting vacant since then. It was a massive undertaking, it was boarded up, there were holes in the roof, leaks everywhere. We just had to gut the whole thing and move everything from the old shop down over three days.
The feedback has been absolutely amazing — all the people who used to work here and those that still work in Dunnes in Mallow have been in to see it. It makes such a big difference to this part of town now. Everyone down here is very excited since we moved in, it has had a knock-on effect.
We have had so many cards and flowers from all our customers and all the businesses down here welcoming us. We’ve only moved literally a couple of hundred metres down the street. Our other shop was brilliant but we didn’t have a shopfront, we were down a laneway. It has made a big difference.
What else do you sell apart from books?
It is a bookshop and we pride ourselves on having a very good selection but you couldn’t have a 5,000 sq ft premises in Mallow just selling books. We had to diversify. So we have Ticketmaster, school uniforms, schoolbooks, stationery.
We also have an area called Love From Cork which we started in 2015, which has crafts made by over 20 local artists and craftspeople, sales are flying. We’ve also increased our children’s area massively and it’s paying off. There’s so much choice in children’s books and you need to be able to display them.
In 2015, the writer James Patterson awarded grants to bookshops in Ireland and the UK to encourage children to read more. We were lucky enough to be awarded a grant and we expanded the children’s area, got a couch, beanbags, a tent; we made it really visual.
The minute the kids see the tent, they tear into it. The only problem is all the books you have to take out of the tent at the end of the day. [Laughs] They try to bring all the beanbags and books into the tent with them. When you see children come in the door and they’re excited, it’s amazing.
The shop is called after your dad, is he involved in running it?
My dad is retired, and I run the shop with my mother. My dad got the credit with the name of the shop but he has never really worked behind the counter.
He would be drafted in at Christmas. He is very academic and loves reading. He would spend a lot of browsing and people wouldn’t realise that he was actually the Philip the shop is named after. They would think he was a customer. I’d be like: ‘Dad, you have to fill out the shelves’ and he would be trying to hide.
What is your customer base like?
We have a very good, loyal local following. Our ethos is to support local and try to get people to shop locally. Amazon and places like that are not supporting local causes, they are not giving anything back. We have a lot of local and Irish history books because Mallow is such a historical town. It is very proactive, there is a big group involved with Mallow Field Club, who buy a lot of history books.