By Harry Keaney
In the U.S., demand for all things Irish is growing. And so is the competition among the array of stores which supply the goods.
While the Thanksgiving to Christmas period is usually associated with boom times for the major retailers, it’s also one of the busiest periods in the year for those in the intensely competitive niche market for Irish specialty goods. And, as with all retailing, half of the battle is simple getting the customers in.
"Christmas is certainly a busy season for us and, I guess, all the Irish import stores," said Michael Murray, of The Fifth Province, in Stamford, Conn. He explained that demand was particularly strong for food items, plum puddings, fruit cakes, biscuits and selection boxes.
"During the month of December, we get to see all our regular customers, and it’s nice to see them," Murray added.
In Yonkers, Mary McMahon, of Shamrock Irish Gift Shop, said her store was exceptionally busy in the run-up to Christmas. In Manhattan, Grafton Gifts & Baskets will soon be opening a new store on 51st Street, between Lexington Avenue, and Third Avenue.
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On this Saturday and Sunday, Mary Anne Connaughton is hosting Irish American artist Edmund Sullivan, who is staging an exhibition in Mary Anne’s Irish Gift Shop and Art Gallery at 5694 Riverdale Ave. in the Bronx. The exhibition features Sullivan’s original Irish landscapes, fine art canvas replicas and limited edition lithographs.
Nehama Mizrahi, who, with Liam McCormack, runs Claddagh Irish Food & Gifts on East 89th Street in Manhattan, which opened six months ago, said that the run-up to Christmas was definitely a busy time. As part of their preparations for the season, she said they "got a lot more stock" and were "opening later hours."
"We have everything anyone would want for an Irish Christmas," County Down native McCormack said.
Mary O’Sullivan of Tara Irish Gift Shop, on West 207th Street, said she sees customers in the run-up to Christmas that she might not see for the rest of the year. "Every season has its own people for coming in," she said. Foods items were in strong demand, as were Waterford Crystal items for gift giving, often to add to an item given last year.
Sean Crean of Celtic Arts, which is on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, said he was not really in competition with anyone because he had a rather unique store. He said Celtic Arts only imports merchandise from Ireland and wholesales to other Irish gift stores.
However, in the run-up to Christmas, he said his store had a special display of original Guinness posters and original maps of Ireland going back to 1500, as well as handwritten letters and books signed by such notables as Wilde, Joyce, Heaney, Beckett and Yeats. Works by the artist Edmund Sullivan are also currently on show.
For both Yonkers-based Specialty Foods of Ireland and Irish Food Distributors, this time of the year, in addition to the Easter and St. Patrick’s Day periods, are among the busiest of times.
Marketing Manager Gary Brogan said there was a "huge demand" for Irish Christmas items.
"There is definitely an increase in demand for all Irish products," he said. "And store owners are always looking for something new."