The Swarbrigg family at the time of the 40th anniversary of their family business, Brian, David, Paddy, Jackie (RIP) and Kate; missing from picture is John Swarbrigg.

Swarbrigg Shoes celebrating 50 years - 'caring for your feet since 1972'

Swarbrigg Shoes is celebrating its 50th birthday. Established in 1972 by Paddy Swarbrigg, the family-run business quickly became an integral part of life in Mullingar. Through the years, Swarbrigg’s has survived more than one recession, competition from new stores opening up nearby, the threat of online shopping and, of course, Covid-19.

Kate and Brian Swarbrigg believe the continued success of the shop is their father Paddy’s unique personality. “It’s all down to Dad. He’d be a well-known figure in the town and he’s been very lucky with loyal staff along with loyal customers,” says Kate. “There are people that came to Dad when he first opened that are still coming in, and then people who would have come in as kids are now bringing their own kids.

Paddy Swarbrigg.

“You definitely notice the loyal customers and he’s always had the same staff for long periods of time, which really makes a difference too.”

In a retail environment that’s growing increasingly impersonal, Swarbrigg Shoes maintains a rare relationship with its customers. From day one, Paddy has offered people their own accounts, allowing them to place deposits on items and pay for them in instalments. This policy remains a trademark of Swarbrigg’s that is greatly appreciated by customers and makes quality and comfortable footwear affordable for families of all incomes.

Brian and Kate Swarbrigg. Photo by Thomas Gibbons

“If people can’t come in, we bring the shop to them. We’ve been doing that since we opened,” says Brian. “Paddy always let customers take shoes home and bring them back if they weren’t suitable. There are women who regularly bring off a selection of shoes for their husbands to try on. They say, ‘I can’t get him into the shop, so I’ll have to bring them home’.”

During the lockdowns imposed during the pandemic Brian hand-delivered shoes across Mullingar. Despite its challenges, Covid-19 attracted more people to the shop. “It was hard, but you just had to adjust and adapt,” says Brian.

“Luckily, it gave us some new customers. Not everyone was selling, so you were doing it in different counties. People came back to you afterwards. We sold through Facebook and phone calls for the first few months, then we started the website and we were sending shoes all over Ireland. It was the only way. You had to do it. There was no point in closing up shop and doing nothing.”

“We’re selling all over Ireland now with the website,” says Kate. “When you see shoes are going down to Tipperary or wherever, it’s mad! And it’s great that you get to do that.”

Jackie (RIP) and Paddy in their younger years.

It’s exciting for Brian and Kate to see the business evolve, especially as shoes have been in the family for generations. Paddy’s grandfather was a shoemaker and Paddy worked for Whelan Shoe Manufacturers and Distributors after leaving school. Originally from Cootehill, County Cavan, when two of his brothers moved to Mullingar, Paddy decided to join them and set up his own shop in the town. In 1998, they expanded with a branch in Athlone.

Swarbrigg’s has always been a family operation. Paddy’s late wife Jackie was involved from the start and managed the office. As a child, Kate loved visiting the shop after hours and “having the run of the place”.

“Back then, we had the big foot-measuring machine. Then they got rid of that and now we use manual ones. Kids don’t understand the fun we used to have, especially when we had it to ourselves!”

Brian became involved in the business in 2004 and Kate joined him in 2011. Brian has since replaced Paddy as shop floor manager while Kate now looks after the office. Paddy says he is proud of how they have taken over the reins.

Meabh Boyce and Laura Irwin. Photo by Thomas Gibbons

Swarbriggs have footwear for everyone – all styles, all ages, and all tastes

Swarbrigg Shoes caters for all ages, genders and tastes. When asked how many styles they carry, Brian’s answer is “too many!”

“We try to stock everything from wellies to slippers and boots. There’s nothing we don’t do. Kids’ and ladies’ are the biggest sellers. We’re known as where to go for a child’s first pair of shoes and then women buy more shoes than men.”

They were one of the first shops in Ireland to introduce the extremely popular FitFlop range of biomechanically engineered footwear. They are Mullingar’s only stockists of NeroGiardini, an Italian company that makes luxury trainers and sandals and one of Swarbrigg’s bestselling brands. Le Babe Italian shoes are particularly popular with wedding guests and bridal parties and Swarbrigg’s is the exclusive stockist in Mullingar and Athlone.

Shoes are sourced from Italy, Spain and Germany as well as from Whelan’s and Dubarry in Ireland. Kate says “a lot of guesswork is involved” as styles are chosen so far in advance. They’re already buying next summer’s stock while this year’s back-to-school shoes have just started arriving. Brian anticipates a hectic few weeks ahead. “In August it will kick off and it will be crazy. It will be slightly busier than Christmas; for four weeks, you’re just flat out.”

Recent trends have seen the arrival of celebrity brands and the surprise return of chunkier styles from the past. Their range of trainers has expanded as the formerly casual shoe has grown in popularity.

“People are now wearing trainers all year round and buying dressy pairs too,” says Brian. Famous for their special offers and seasonal reductions, Swarbrigg Shoes has opened a sale shop on Mount Street, Mullingar, where bargain-hunters can browse all year round.

Paddy has always given back to the local community and this is another tradition that Brian and Kate feel is important to uphold. Swarbrigg Shoes recently sponsored kits for Westmeath ladies’ underage teams and a kids’ club in Shandonagh and they support an annual ladies’ golf competition. “If anyone comes in looking for sponsorship or even just a spot prize, we’ll always help them out,” says Brian.

The Swarbrigg’s team are looking forward to bringing the best shoes to as many people as possible for another 50 years. Their friendly approach and willingness to go the extra mile for their customers will continue to make the business stand out. The shop will always be a family-run store that prides itself on its personal touch and first-class range, and honours Paddy’s remarkable legacy.

Message from the Swarbrigg family

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our staff, past and present, who have worked hard for us, and our loyal customers, who have helped build up the business to where it is today.”