By Harry Keaney
GREENWICH, CONN. — An Irish-American chapter in the commercial history of Greenwich, Conn., will come to a close at the end of this month.
For more than 60 years, Quinn’s Market, at 376 Greenwich Ave., has been the place to go for Irish food imports and speciality items. In particular, Quinn’s, as it is known, built a reputation for personalized service, including delivery of groceries to many of its local Greenwich customers.
But now, Hugh Quinn, who took over the business from his late father, William, in 1971, has decided to call it a day.
There are a number of reasons for the closure. Quinn, who’s 54, has, for most his life, worked 15-hour days, six days a week, and he justifiably feels he has earned the right to take it easy. He also said good employees were becoming harder to find, and grocery outlets are now a part of many chains.
Quinn’s was founded in 1936 by William Quinn, who came from outside Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. Hugh Quinn’s mother, Catherine Deacy, came from Foxford, Co. Mayo. William and Catherine met in the U.S. William died in 1980.
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As he served customers in his store on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, Hugh Quinn explained that his father first came to the U.S. about 1919 or 1920, after the Black and Tans had assassinated his boss, James McCracken, who owned a store in Tyrone.
McCracken, having seen the soldiers coming, warned his young employee to hide. The soldiers shot McCracken and some of his family, but only subsequently realized that William Quinn – hiding under the store’s counter – was a witness.
On arriving in the U.S. soon afterward, Quinn worked for a regional chain of grocery stores called Butler’s, owned by James Butler. “The Butlers hired every Irishman off the boat coming in,” Hugh Quinn said. “Your older readers will have heard of Butler’s. They had stores in New York, Westchester and Fairfield County.”
William Quinn worked in the U.S. for about 10 years and returned to Ireland in 1928. A year later, when he tried to transfer his money from the U.S. to Ireland, he was unable to do; it was 1929, the year of the great stock market crash and banks were not allowing money out of the country.
“So, to get his money, he had to come over here, and he stayed,” Hugh Quinn explained. Seven years later, he opened the family store in Greenwich. He expanded it with a liquor store in the 1940s, and a butcher counter that cut meat to order in 1954.
Since 1936, Quinn’s Market, handed down from father to son, has outlasted many other markets of its kind. But although the grocery store is now set to close, the Quinn’s name will remain a part of the Greenwich Avenue’s streetscape. Hugh Quinn intends to expand the store’s liquor section, which is less labor intensive.
For many, however, last orders in Quinn’s Market herald the end of not just a grocery shop but rather the fast disappearing era of personal service in a local family outlet.