A shoe repair, key cutting and leather shop which opened in Cork in the midst of a harsh recession in 1980 is to shut its doors for the final time today after weathering fires, floods and fluctuations in the economy.
Tom and Sinead Dwyer of The Cobbler Shop have run a thriving business on Oliver Plunkett St in the city centre for nearly 40 years.
Although the business is still successful they made the tough decision to close in order to enjoy their grandchildren and to further concentrate on their premises in the Douglas Court Shopping Centre.
Tom has been surrounded by shoes since he was a young boy as his family owned the Lee Footwear company in Cork. The business was just over a hundred years old when it closed in 1980.
Having worked for the family firm for 12 years he was trained in all facets of shoemaking. An opportunity came up to open his own shop in a prime retail location across from the GPO. However, there was one catch.
Tom was well versed in all things shoes but re-heeling was not among his skill set. He is forever grateful for the mentoring of the late David Higgins who was like his “right hand” when he found himself inundated with shoes after the business had a stronger than anticipated opening.
David started with us about a week after we opened. Our backs were to the wall. We had shoes everywhere. David had a shoe repair business and when he came in we got to grips with what was going on and we tore through the work. Back in those days you didn’t see the problems. You only saw the positive.
They were so busy in the early months that David failed to realise that Sinead was Tom’s wife and he told him to “hang on to her” because she was good.
With a young family to support, Tom and Sinead were conscious of trying to balance work and home life. They were lucky in that they attracted huge business but this often required that Tom feverishly worked into the early hours of the morning.
The shop in the city centre was an instant success and the couple opened its sister operation in Douglas Court 29 years ago. Sinead was concerned about opening a new branch but with their decision to diversify into key cutting and selling bags, they are now amongst the oldest running traders in centre.
Meanwhile, the shop in Oliver Plunkett St has endured six floods in its lifetime. Sinead also recalls a fire which occurred in 2005 which necessitated the closure of the shop for a period.
“It was an August weekend where it was very hot and the dust smouldered in the machine. A girl went to show a friend a bag in the window that she wanted to buy. She saw the smoke and she rang the fire brigade.”
Oliver Plunkett St has lost another established business this week with the Newbridge Silverware Store also closing its doors due to the retirement of its owner, and Jessica’s gift shop also set to close.
The Dwyers have always had a close relationship with neighboring businesses. In 1993 when they needed to refurbish their shop they moved a 20ft container outside the building, set up a counter and continued working.
Tom says it was the “best publicity” they ever got.
“It was brilliant. It was snowing on top of us. All the traders helped. People were very patient.”
Of course a business is nothing without its customers and a few memorable people have come through the doors over the years. Tom recalls a customer who came back with a docket after three years.
We had a guy come in one day and the date on the ticket was about three years old. So I went rummaging and found the shoes and polished them and presented them to him. He said he was in Mountjoy for a while. I didn’t ask him what he was in for.
Tom would like to pay tribute to the loyalty of staff saying they have been a “huge part of the whole story”. He has also thanked customers for the banter in the shop which he describes as “pure Cork”. Sinead said they used to “drink their tears” with laughter at some of their encounters in the store and it was never a place where people went in and out of without a chat.
The Dwyers are confident that their loyal customer base in the city centre will follow them out to Douglas Court.
Tom says the time is right for them to move on to the next chapter. He is glad that they are closing on their own terms.
“The business is successful. It is profitable. But the time has come. The business has been great to us. We have four grandchildren and two more on the way. I will be still involved in Douglas so there is plenty to occupy us.”