Cork shopkeeper: Running the store is a way of life for me

As we continue our series on Cork’s Corner Shops, CHRIS DUNNE pays a visit to Reen’s in Bandon, West Cork
Cork shopkeeper: Running the store is a way of life for me

Robert Fitzpatrick, owner, Reen's Shop, Bandon, Co. Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

REEN’s shop, located at 2, North Main Street, Bandon, is perched on the perfect spot for a corner shop.

Robert Fitzpatrick has the ideal vantage point behind the shop counter to view the busy main street and to welcome his customers inside.

Reen’s also serves as a meeting place for a friendly chat.

“Donie Morgan and John Wilmott are here this afternoon,” says shop owner Robert Fitzpatrick, who gives me an old fashioned welcome into the shop, introducing me to his friends.

“They are two local legends and they have all the local info,” says Robert.

“Having a chat in here is par for the course when things are quiet.”

It is just after lunch-time and Robert has a breather from serving his customers and from holding court with Donie and John.

“The deli is busy at lunch-time,” says Robert, whose grandmother, Julia Reen started the tradition of making sandwiches and baking bread to sell back in the 1920s.

Robert Fitzpatrick, owner, Reen's Shop, Bandon, Co. Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Robert Fitzpatrick, owner, Reen's Shop, Bandon, Co. Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“I have a lot of regular customers and some passing trade,” says Robert. “The bulk of my trade is local trade.”

Robert’s shop is a charming old-fashioned shop selling confectionary, sweets, cakes, fruit and veg, sandwiches, fresh rolls, and I even spotted a football for sale at the back of the shop!

“I love meeting the people, the shop is very sociable,” says Robert.

“There is a vibrant community in Bandon and it is a great shopping town with lots of variety.”

Back in 1925, Robert’s grandparents, Julia Collins, from Leap, and Bobby Reen, from Bandon, rented the shop from the Arnott Estate before purchasing it a few years later.

“The Arnott family owned numerous properties in Bandon,” says Robert. “The shop was one of them.

"My grandparents opened the business in 1925. In the beginning they sold fish, they were fishmongers, then they diverted to selling groceries, sweets, confectionary, and home baking. My grandmother liked baking and she baked cakes and bread to sell in the shop.”

Apart from a brisk local trade, Reens catered for all the local farmers who came into town for the ploughing matches that took place on a regular basis.

“The ploughing matches were a very popular event in Bandon and many farmers travelled near and far to them,” says Robert.

“There was a great buzz around town for the ploughing matches. And the ploughing matches brought more business to the shops here which was great.”

Julia and Bobby had two boys, Seanie and Donal, and three girls, Maisie, Sheila and Annie.

“They all helped out in the shop as youngsters,” says Robert.

The Reens were a close-knit family.

“And they all lived upstairs over the shop and they all gave a hand with the household chores after school.”

Bobby was handy about the house and in the shop too.

“Grandad was a good painter and he liked keeping the place nice.”

Robert in side his store in. Bandon. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Robert in side his store in. Bandon. Picture: Denis Minihane.

He kept himself busy.

“He often drove for the local doctor too. And he also went to London to work as a painter after the war.”

During World War II, Reen’s shop was closed for four or five years.

“There was no supplies available for the shop,” says Robert.

“My grandmother with two of her babies relocated to South Main Street until the Arnotts rebuilt the shop after it was burned to the ground in 1932. Then the family were able to return.”

Was the shop closed in recent times?

“Only during the height of the flooding,” says Robert. “Thankfully that eventually got sorted.”

Annie Reen, who married Patrick Fitzpatrick, and had three children, Hilary, Richard and Robert, liked helping out in the shop.

“My father and my mother both worked in London at one time and that is where they met,” says Robert.

“My dad was from Tipperary and he was a builder.”

The ladies of the house ran the shop in Bandon.

“My grandmother and my mother were the ladies of the shop back in the day,” says Robert.

“Both of them loved shop-keeping and meeting the locals. They worked well together.”

Robert Fitzpatrick, owner, Reen's Shop, Bandon, Co. Cork. His grandparents opened the business back in 1925. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Robert Fitzpatrick, owner, Reen's Shop, Bandon, Co. Cork. His grandparents opened the business back in 1925. Picture: Denis Minihane.

What did the ladies sell?

“They sold a variety of groceries, including loose tea, loose butter, flour, eggs, home-baking, sliced cold meats and fruit and vegetables,” says Robert.

“There was a big weighing scales on the shop counter.

“My grandmother was in the shop up until she died. It was a way of life for her.”

Shopkeeping was in the Reen and Fitzpatrick families.

“When I left school in the 1990s, I took over the shop,” says Robert.

The business is in the blood for 96 years.

“It is a way of life for me and I like it,” says Robert, who opens up shop early and closes late six days a week.

“I came straight from school to this. My mother passed away in April, 2014, and I’ve been running the shop ever since.

“I really like meeting the people and chatting to them when they come in for their groceries or for a fresh roll, or just for a chat! The street is always busy, with people walking up and down during the day and in the evening.”

You can catch up on Cork’s Corner Shop series on the link below.

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