RICHARD Jordan was preparing to host a barbecue at his Douglas home on a summer Saturday evening last year when he spotted black smoke billowing up to the sky from his kitchen window.
He wasn’t to know straight away, but that was his newly-opened business in Douglas Shopping Centre going up in smoke.
The blaze, which began in the adjacent multi-storey car park, forced the closure of the shopping centre, and with it Richard’s shoe and accessory shop, Amari, which had only opened there the previous May.
The fire happened six months ago, on August 31, 2019, and, for Richard at least, there was some good news as he managed to re-locate his business, to Drawbridge Street in Cork city.
The 39-year-old recalls the events of that summer’s evening.
“I was planning to have a barbecue with friends that evening after work. It was a normal day.
“I’d had a busy Saturday and in the evening I was ordering new autumn/ winter stock for the shop.”
Three doors down in Douglas Shopping Centre, in Pure Boutique, Richard’s aunt, Rita Franklin, who had been based there for 18 years, was doing the same.
“I was catching up with Rita too that evening,” says Richard.
“When I was a young fellow, I helped her out in her business during the summer. I always dreamed of working in the fashion industry in some form. I wanted to open my own unique shop.”
Richard had moved from Dublin to Cork with his partner, Colin, to start his business in Douglas last May.
“I was so excited,” he recalls.
Amari was his baby. He kept it in the family.
“The shop is called after my mother, Marie!”
“I knew the traders at the shopping centre were like one big family with a huge sense of community, enjoying a symbiotic relationship. I settled in there like I had been there forever. My aunt had traded there for years and encouraged me to open my dream shop in the village.”
The day of the fire, Richard headed off to get supplies for the barbecue after closing up. He was at home when, through his kitchen window, he saw black smoke.
“I was preparing food in the kitchen when I saw the smoke, and the sky blackened,” he says.
“I thought, KC’s is very busy this evening. It took a while to sink in. I realised something really sinister had happened. I contacted Rita to see if she had heard anything.”
He rushed to the scene.
“There were crowds gathering, cars exploding, it was Armageddon. We still had no idea how catastrophic the fire was.”
Firefighters prevented the blaze spreading to the shopping centre, but it was forced to close. It was a sad day, although fortunately nobody died.
“Douglas Shopping Centre is so unique,” says Richard.
“I had only been trading there three months but already had a real connection with all the traders.”
When the dust settled, he realised he had to dust himself down and start again.
“We weren’t allowed near our premises for safety reasons,” says Richard.
“On the Sunday, Colin and I went into the city for lunch, trying to normalise the weekend. Of course I was devastated; I had invested so much into Amari. Rita was gutted. She had spent so many happy years there.”
While strolling in the city, Richard and Colin came across premises on Drawbridge Street with a ‘For Sale’ sign outside.
“We both stopped in our tracks, thinking the same thing,” says Richard.
Sandwiched between Samui and Perry Street Cafe, close to Origins Hair Design, the shop space seemed like a good prospect for Amari to reopen for business .
“It was formerly Sallingers, a menswear shop,” says Richard.
“The shop front looked inviting and the location was perfect, just off Patrick Street.
“I know it was early days after the fire. The shock was massive. But I was eager to get up and running again. We made enquiries about procuring the premises.”
It was a brave move so soon?
“It was,” says Richard. “I am an optimist and was selling something I was good at, believing wholeheartedly in the product. I had a good support network I knew would row in behind me. I had left Dublin to open my business in Cork. I knew I could go again. I still had reserves to catapult me into action. I had the momentum to try to open for business again. This unit on Drawbridge Street seemed ideal. I knew I could put my love and energy into it.”A
He had to put capital into it too.
“The rents and rates are more challenging in the city centre than in Douglas,” says Richard.
“But the location is great; it is so central.
“Amari is all about the ambiance; the experience. So when I secured the shop space, it had to be special; ornate and welcoming.”
He had a little help.
“Family and friends came on board to help me decorate the shop ahead of opening. Behind the scenes, people were working away, helping me make it happen.”
Amari on Drawbridge Street opened last November, less than three months after the fire.
“It was a huge effort from a great team,” says Richard. “Yes, there was a bit of stress involved. But it was worth it!”
He says despite setbacks in business and in life, you can work through them and bounce back.
“It is hard not to get down or feel defeated when you get a severe blow,” says Richard.
“You have to try and roll with the punches and get back on your feet.
“Being in retail can be challenging with so many online options. But, you know, I want people to have the personal shopping experience and not look on shopping as a chore. Here in the city, some outlets carry some of my brands, which again poses a challenge. I continue to re-invent.”
Dealing with business insurance after the fire was a chore.
“Everyone who was affected by the fire is in the same boat,” says Richard. “It can be frustrating. There is no point wallowing. We must try and get on with things.
“I love the vibrant environment of the city,” adds Richard.
Is he nostalgic for the village? “I love living in Douglas,” he says. He’s confident Douglas Shopping Centre will be vibrant and buzzing again.
“All the traders are supporting one another to get back on their feet,” says Richard.
“When you surround yourself with friends and have a positive outlook, then it is possible to bounce back.”