Lifeblood of Kanturk is diversity

IT didn’t get within a roar of the Celtic Tiger and, even during those heady days, a north Cork town lost its biggest industry.

But now Kanturk is the envy of many other towns, having seen its number of business outlets increase by 22 in the past two years.

Working on the ethos that “small is beautiful and sustainable”, Kanturk Chamber of Commerce can take a bow — especially as it has overseen and encouraged the development of a diverse range of outlets which would make a small city proud.

“Within three minutes of where I live you can now buy an external hard-drive, a book on quantum physics and dine on frog’s legs in Bob’s Bar which has a French chef,” said Pat Casey. “Five years ago we never had that kind of diversity.”

Pat, who is on the chamber’s retail committee, is happy with the vibrancy his hometown has achieved.

It’s a far cry from the not-too-distant past when as the rest of the country was in boom mode Kanturk saw its biggest employer, Irish Pride, close with the loss of 100 jobs.

But while the rest of the country continues to reel in the recession, Kanturk is bucking the trend and breaking records in Cork county — if not the whole country.

“Last year, we had 14 new outlets open and so far this year we’ve had eight. During that time we had three close, so we are certainly well up,” said Kieran Fitzgerald, president of Kanturk Chamber of Commerce.

Kieran, who works in his family’s insurance brokerage, believes a decision taken years ago by the chamber may be one of the main reasons the town is thriving.

The chamber had decided if any large multiples wanted to move into the area, they would have to locate within the town centre rather than build outside and drag trade away from the established shopping areas.

Tesco came calling, offering to create 80 jobs but on a greenfield site out of town. The chamber wouldn’t be seduced, even with such a carrot being dangled in front of it. David challenged the Goliath might of the multi-national and prevailed.

Small little shops started popping up all over the place, mainly created by locals looking for niche markets.

The chamber of commerce believes the Tesco jobs would have displaced others. Anyway, the town possessed a large SuperValu supermarket. It took over as number one employer in Kanturk following the closure of the Irish Pride factory and boasts 90 full and part-time workers.

Mr Fitzgerald points to other towns which allowed multiples to locate on their outskirts, with often disastrous results for established small retailers.

He maintains the large chains have sucked the life out of these towns and as a result many of their businesses have stagnated or gone under.

“There was always an entrepreneurial spirit in Kanturk. It didn’t always work out, but people were prepared to have a go. Locals supported them and now every €10 spent in a shop goes around the town in a sort of circle. It’s benefiting everybody,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

Kanturk is the main town in the Duhallow region — north-west Cork — and the chamber of commerce has tried to ensure as many people from that region shop there. The town has built up a loyalty base, which the chamber is continuing to promote.

However, it is also realistic. Its members realise they can’t stop people making shopping trips, especially on Sundays to Cork and Killarney. They realise these are also family day outs and not solely commercial forays.

“We will never stop people doing that and I think we would be very naive to think we could. That is why very few places open in Kanturk on Sundays and I don’t think they should,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

The chamber’s slogan is Try Town First and a stroll around its streets is testimony to a range of outlets.

“All we can do is try to create awareness of what we have to offer and we have an awful lot, thank God. We’d like to think that local people are aware that supporting their own will ensure jobs for their children,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

While he acknowledges not all of the parish’s 3,500 population spend every cent they earn in the town, there is an immense sense of pride that a very high percentage of their wages goes on shopping local.

“In the last two to three years we have been blessed with the amount of small new businesses popping up. Actually it would be fair to say that it would be hard to find a vacant retail space in the town now,” Pat Casey said.

He added Kanturk also had another major plus on its side. “We have a very good relationship with the local community council. We may be separate organisations but we work very closely together on certain projects and that really helps,” Mr Casey said.

To celebrate its success and to say thank you to those supporting the town, the chamber of commerce has purchased the biggest Christmas tree it can get from Coillte.

The 40ft high tree will be lit up in the town centre on December 3.

The Chamber of Commerce realises times are going to get a lot harder. But that may present it with opportunities regarding level-headed organisation and growth.

After all, it didn’t get carried away when the Celtic Tiger was in full flight. Now, take a look at the place.

Keeping it local for new venture

THE town’s newest business will open this Wednesday on Percival Street.

It’s Caitriona O’Keeffe’s first venture on her own. The 33-year-old mother of twin girls is a native of Kanturk, but spent a lot of time away from home.

She trained in hotel management in Shannon; has a commerce degree from Galway and followed those studies up with a post-grad in IT and accounting.

After that, she worked in a number of hotels in Germany and the US.

“I was in and out of work for the last 18 months. I’d get six months here and a month there so I thought, if I didn’t do this, I’d have to leave Kanturk,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

Needless to say she doesn’t want to do that because her six-year-old daughters are settled in school and have lots of friends in the town.

She set up a delicatessen called Kate’s Kitchen and will be helped out by her mother, Nora Field, a retired home economics teacher, and friend Fiona Hogan.

“All my supplies will be purchased from local sources and, as I’m supporting them, I hope they will support me too,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

“This won’t be a sit down delicatessen. I’ll be producing pate, quiches, salmon and crab fish mousses and home baking for people to take away. I will also be catering for bulk purchases, for people’s parties etc,” she added.

“Everything will be made fresh in the kitchen.”

She believes local businesses are becoming more innovative.

Fish business proved a good hook for town

MARK REIDY opened up Duhallow Seafood two weeks ago and is still proudly displaying the greeting cards he got from other businesses in Kanturk.

The 28-year-old worked in the Factory Fish Shop in Skibbereen for a number of years before going out on his own and selling fish from a van.

“I was always interested opening my own shop and now I have. It is the first fishmonger’s in the Duhallow region and I picked Kanturk because there is great energy here,” Mark said.

“This town has just about everything. You don’t have to go to Cork for stuff. People are mad to help you out, as you can see from the cards I got.”

He buys his fish three times a week from Skibbereen, Schull and Baltimore. So the people of landlocked Kanturk can now enjoy monkfish, sea bass, scallops, mussels, turbot, brill and squid.

“I’m making my own seafood chowder which is ‘flying’ out the door. I also advise people how to cook fish properly and hand out free recipes,” Mark said.

“I think some people were surprised when I opened the business on Strand Street but now, instead of buying fish and freezing it, they can come in and get fresh fish in smaller amounts. So I’m bringing something different to the town.”

Mark acknowledges opening the business in the current economic climate was a bit of a gamble. But, nevertheless, he’s optimistic.

“Business is pretty good. Let’s say I’m not losing money, anyway.”

Best foot forward despite her bad luck

DEIRDRE O’BRIEN couldn’t have had worst luck when she opened her shoe shop in the town.

Arsonists set fire to two parked cars in Kanturk early last April. The fire from one of the vehicles spread to her shop on Watergate Street and completely gutted the building. She had opened just two-and-a-half weeks earlier.

“It wasn’t a good start but, fortunately, I was insured and I was determined to make a go of it,” the 23-year-old said.

She reopened Shubiz at the beginning of last June.

Her shop caters for women and her target age group is 17-50.

“Business isn’t too bad, thank God, so I can’t complain. Kanturk has a very good catchment area. People are still spending, but not as much as before,” Deirdre said.

A business graduate from UL two years ago, Deirdre opens her shop six days a week but gets a helping hand from her mother Mary.

She stocks well-known brands such as S Oliver, Caprice, Gioseppo and Ravel. So there’s no need for local women to go to Cork or Killarney for the most up-to-date styles.

“The shoes we have range in price from €40 to €120 for leather boots.”

The shop also boasts a wide selection of handbags.

Deirdre was born in Kanturk and understands the community spirit.

“With this support, I’m sure most of the money I make will be re-spent in Kanturk. A lot of business people around here try to do that. It’s a sort of self-help process,” Deirdre added.

Leap of faith to open a second lingerie store

DENISE HICKEY has faith in the loyalty of Kanturk’s shoppers, so much so she has just opened her second outlet in the town.

The 31-year-old married mother of an 11-month-old daughter recently opened up a luxury lingerie shop.

Denise, who lives in Millstreet, identified a nice little niche in the market because women living in north-west Cork would have to go to Cork city to find something similar.

Surprisingly, there’s no similar outlet in Mallow. Unsurprisingly, it’s just another outlet in Kanturk which you wouldn’t expect for a town of its small size.

Denise opened The Perfect Fit six weeks ago on Percival Street. It’s her second business venture in the town, having opened a DVD shop in O’Brien Street just over five years ago — which is going very well.

“I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. Business in the new shop has been good enough (despite the recession). Customers are coming from Mallow, Charleville, Ballydesmond and even from across the Kerry border at Gneeveguilla,” Denise said. To promote the venture she’s put out fliers and posters. But she mainly relies on word of mouth.

Denise knows she’s taking a gamble opening a new shop at a time when the economy is depressed. “I know it’s a quiet time, but I hope it can go only one way......up. I’ll just keep the head down and get on with it.”

“I had to go to Birmingham to get properly trained to fit bras. I did the fitting course there because there was nowhere in Ireland where it can be done,” Denise said.

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