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'The day of the small shop is gone'

Story by Rodney Farry

Tuesday, 24th January, 2017 12:48pm

'The day of the small shop is gone'

Anne Tone, who has worked in the Cat and Bagpipes shop in Tubber for the last 17 years.

One of the longest chapters in the history of Tubber comes to an end on January 31 when the shop at the iconic Cat and Bagpipes closes its doors for the last time.

For well over 100 years - so long that the owners, the Tone family, aren't quite sure when exactly it began trading - the Cat and Bagpipes pub and adjoining shop have been one of the cornerstones of community life in the village along with its school and church.

Currently owned by Sean Tone and run by his nephew Cathal and brother Charlie, the building that houses the shop and pub was built by the siblings' great grandfather James Stone in the 19th century.

The premises is particularly close to Sean and Charlie's heart as their mother was born above the above the pub in 1916.

While Charlie and Sean's great grandfather built the shop and pub, for much of the last century the business was run by P and H Egan Group, which operated pubs and hotels across the midlands, before being taken over by the legendary McLoughlin brothers in the 1960s.

The McLoughlins got out of the business in the 1997 and the premises was shut for a short period until Sean and Yvonne took the reins in 1999.

The Tones have enjoyed serving their friends and neighbours over the last two decades, however, Charlie, whose mother was born above the bar in 1916, says that in recent years it became increasingly obvious that the shop wasn't economically viable.

"The trend nowadays is for people to go into the big shops to do their shopping. They come to us for the papers, the milk, the bread, that sort of stuff. We deliberately subsidised from the pub, but the pub trade has got a hard knock in the last few years with people very careful about driving the next morning. Ever since that happened we've found ourselves, not being able.

"The pub would have been in danger itself if we hadn't taken this action. We are very determined to keep the pub opened. It's the life and soul of the place.

"There is a school and church and the pub and shop, that's what has been here always. The village won't have a shop anymore. It just became impossible to keep it going anymore. You can imagine how hard it is for us to close that shop after it being in the family for so long."

Anne Tone, Cathal's mother, has worked in the shop for the last 17 years, Charlie says that her role extends far beyond serving people their groceries.

"Anne would have had all the craic and banter with people down through the years. She would have been the main source of news in the village. Everything that was happening came through her. Messages were left in and people would collect them. Children would often arrive after school and wait until their parents collected them. All these things, she minded them all."

Anne says that why she loves her job, "it's just unfortunate that the day of the small shop is gone".

"It's just not economical any more. I had very loyal customers down the years like the GAA and schools. It's just one of those things. What I will miss most are the little boys and girls coming from school for the sweets. They were lovely kids. I'll miss that terribly."

A firm supporter of Liverpool and the Westmeath football team, Anne says that she'll also miss the banter with the local Manchester United and Faithful County fans.

"People were very good to us, very loyal. It's just the way it is, the rural shop is the thing of the past. A whole lot of shops around here have closed, in Rosemount, Streamstown and Castledaly. They couldn't keep going and they had a bigger population than us."

Looking into the future, Charlie believes that if the government want communities in rural Ireland to remain vibrant, they will have to look at safeguarding services like the village shop, which are particularly important for the elderly.

"What you'd love to see it brought under one of those programmes that take place in these villages. The shop could be kept going through some sort of rural scheme. It's not just our shop and village. It's all over.
"We've been thinking about this for two years and you know we lost so much last year from the shop that we couldn't ignore the warning that they [the accountants]have been telling us. We tried our best to keep the social side going for the parish but there comes a time when it's just impossible. It's an awful sad day for us," he concludes.

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