Johnny shuts up shop after 50 years in hardware trade
It’s quite something to have a man who saw you do your first day’s work turn up on your last day of work to wish you well in your retirement – especially when those two dates are half a century apart!
In 1973, Tommy Glennon recommended Johnny Ryan for a job in the North Offaly Co-Op in Tullamore – and this Friday, he plans to be among those who are planning to party at ‘J Ryan Hardware’ in Tyrrellspass, as Johnny turns his key in the lock for the final time.
“Back then,” recalls Tommy, “the manager in Tullamore was an old man, with old ideas, and when I mentioned Johnny, he said: ‘bring him in for a couple of months and let’s have a look at him’ – and Johnny became his favourite, his right-and man!”
Eight years later, the 23-year-old opened his own business in Tyrrellspass.
Trying to halt Johnny in his tracks for a bit of a chat is no easy task, it emerges, during the Westmeath Examiner’s visit to the shop last week. The man is on the go non-stop, between phonecalls, friends dropping in for a quick catch-up, and a constant flow of customers who, for 42 years, have been operating on the premise that if there’s anything they need on the hardware or DIY front, Johnny most likely will have it in stock.
“Some people have said it’s like an Aladdin’s Cave here,” says Johnny during a rare quiet moment, standing in an aisle rammed full of a mix of the mundane and the mysterious.
Then arrives another customer.
“Have you any twine?”
“I have,” Johnny says, offering a choice of types.
The next leaves with some light bulbs; another doesn’t know the name of what she wants, but describes them: “Ah! Cable ties,” says Johnny.
Men in workman’s clothes leave with small boxes of who knows what – screws maybe; nails, washers. One man was looking for padlocks.
The only customer left disappointed was a woman on a quest to find budgie food.
The new owner of the business is to be David Smyth of David Smyth Catering, who runs the destination venue ‘The Barn’ next door to Johnny’s.
Touchingly, he has vowed to keep the Ryan name over the door: “Sure there’d be no point in changing it: people will always call it Ryan’s,” David says.
That makes Johnny happy, as decades before his family bought the premises, the building had housed a bakery, operated by a Ryan couple – his great-grandparents.
That fact in itself provides a clue as to how important Tyrrellspass is to Johnny: “I went to school here in Tyrrellspass and always lived here,” he says.
After primary, he went to Rochfortbridge for three years, and from there, he went straight in to the North Offaly Co-Op.
“That was agricultural hardware, and I went in there at fifteen years of age so I am at hardware for fifty years.
“I used to go in with my friend, Tommy Glennon. He was from here, and he had a car. He got me the job there.
“There are changes in what a hardware would sell then and sell now. Like then, we’d sell a lot of plough parts but you wouldn’t stock any of those things now: it’s all big machinery now, there wouldn’t be anything like those old ploughs.”
Eight years after starting in the North Offaly Co-Op, Johnny and his family decided that he would open a hardware business in Tyrrellspass.
“My father (Tom) and my uncle, Mick Ryan, bought the place off Dan Moore – but before Dan Moore was here, Ryans did live here. They had a bakery here. That would be my father and uncle’s grandparents.
“When Moores had it, the shop was just this front part of the building – we extended out the back – and one side of it was grocery and the other half was drapery.
“My father and Mick didn’t know much about hardware: they had the sand and gravel business and they had the petrol station up the road.”
The hardware store was a welcome addition to Tyrrellspass, meeting a need that had arisen after John Bradley’s hardware shop in the village had closed some years earlier.
“The customers are all local: from Tyrrellspass to Rochfortbridge to Croghan Hill to Rahugh, the whole surrounding area,” says Johnny.
“It’s busy because people love the small hardware shop and it saves them going to town.
“You’d always have the chat going on, every day.”
As boss of his own business, Johnny could take holidays only once a year – which he normally likes to spend in Lanzarote. It has also meant that even out of hours, he would occasionally have callers to the house needing something from the shop.
“The time we had the big frost, I had to go up to the shop St Stephen’s Day. You’d help people out. That’s what it is all about.”
During the Covid lockdown it was the same: “I stayed open, and there were queues outside the door. They wanted everything: paint, gardening supplies – the weather was lovely and people wanted something to keep them occupied more than anything.”
If he hadn’t done hardware, Johnny says, he would have been interested in going into the drapery business. “I always liked fashion,” he says. Adding that he has always admired Galvin For Men and Tom Birmingham Menswear. A single man, Johnny enjoys dancing and he enjoys horse racing. Now that he is retiring, he hopes to do some things that just weren’t feasible while working 51 weeks a year. “I’ll travel anyway. And there’s a lot of things I want to do with my home.”
“No. Definitely no!”