Landmark Dublin Woollen Mills to close
DUBLIN WOOLLEN MILLS, the famous haberdashery trading since 1888 beside the Ha’penny Bridge, is to close and the landmark building is to be sold.
Valerie Roche, from the fourth generation of the Roche family to run the business, says they are not closing for financial reasons. “It has come to a stage in our family that with the business in good condition and trading well that we would like to leave it honourably and close it. I am reaching a particular age and if this business was to continue on, it would need a strong injection and regrowth over the next 10 years.”
Asked whether the business required a cash injection, she said: “Not so much cash as energy, but cash doesn’t go astray either . . . so it is a decision by the shareholders that there isn’t a prospect for the future. It is very difficult to trade in Ireland at the moment as an old-style, honourable business.”
The Woollen Mills was opened 124 years ago at 15 Bachelors Walk by Valerie Roche’s great-grandfather, Valentine James Roche. In the early 1930s, it moved to the junction of Ormond Quay and Liffey Street to capitalise on the busy pedestrian flow across the Ha’penny Bridge. A second retail outlet selling fabrics, zips and buttons traded for many years on the opposite side of the bridge until it was sold at the peak of the property market in 2005. The company also operates a wholesale business in west Dublin which is to close. Some of the 19 staff are planning to open a similar business in the city.
In the meantime, estate agents Finnegan Menton has been engaged to sell the business premises, which comprise a four-storey listed building on Ormond Quay – with superb views along the city quays – and a part three storey showroom with 27 metres of frontage onto Liffey Street. A decorative wrought-iron and glass canopy opens on to a plaza which has obvious potential for external seating and which is still remembered by older customers as the piece of ground chosen by Hector Grey for his first market stall. The floor area of the buildings run to 365 sq m (3,930 sq ft).
Nicholas Corson of the selling agents says that, with the buildings strategically located along one of the busiest pedestrian routes in the city – the main pedestrian link between Grafton Street/Temple Bar and Henry Street – he is expecting considerable interest from retailers, restaurateurs and investors. The complex, described as “an iconic building” by Valerie Roche, is for sale at €1.8 million.
Valerie’s daughter, Simone, who works part time in the Woollen Mills, is the fifth generation of her family to be involved in the business. She is also studying at Trinity College Dublin.
Valerie says they had been happy to see a growth in their business over the past three to four years. People who were involved in furnishing houses and buying fringing for curtains and cushions moved swiftly after the property crash into knitting and craft areas. “They have gone back to using their hands and being more creative, so that is why we are doing very well at the moment. We also have a lot of repeat business from people who do alterations, as well as students in art colleges.” The Woollen Mills was the first outlet in the city to sell off-the-peg Aran sweaters, and many of their older customers frequently return for these distinctive jumpers.
Valerie says there are fewer incentives for people to come into the city centre because a lot of the large stores are also in the out-of-town shopping centres. The demise of old family companies such as the Woollen Mills has been an indication of social and economic changes. “The change to shopping centres full of look-alike stores may be convenient for the busy shopper, and the large foreign multiples may facilitate keener prices, but the consequence is the closure of the single-outlet company seeking to provide quality service. We are one of the last of a long chain of multi-generational businesses that have closed over the last few years. Is there a lesson to be learnt regarding the economy and commercial climate which we have built?”
The demise of old family companies such as the Woollen Mills has been an indication of social and economic changes
© 2012 The Irish Times