Cork shopkeeper: I recall when jam was 13p, a swiss roll was 10p, firelighters 5p...

CHRIS DUNNE pays a visit to Shinnick’s store in Fermoy as we continue our Cork’s Corner Shop series
Cork shopkeeper: I recall when jam was 13p, a swiss roll was 10p, firelighters 5p...

Brian and Liz Shinnick and Brian's father Michael in Shinnick's Spar shop, Fermoy. Picture: Denis Minihane.

NO. 22, McDermott Place in Fermoy houses a neat Spar shop that opened on November 6, 1975, after Michael Shinnick built up the business for five years before extending it to as it is now.

“My father is a native of Fermoy,” says Michael’s son, Brian, who now runs the family business with his wife Elizabeth. Ann, his sister, helps out in the post office three days a week.

“Dad worked and spent all his life in Fermoy,” says Brian, who is the latest shop keeper to feature in our Cork's Corner Shop Series.

“He is well known throughout the area, having worked in a number of grocery shops and supermarkets before setting up business on his own.

“He always believed in giving his customers the best possible service and the best value for money.”

Where did Michael Shinnick learn his trade?

“He started his career in the grocery business when he went to work in the late Martin Healy’s shop in Cork Road,” says Brian.

Brian and Liz Shinnick and Brian's father Michael outside Shinnick's Spar shop, Fermoy. Picture Denis Minihane.
Brian and Liz Shinnick and Brian's father Michael outside Shinnick's Spar shop, Fermoy. Picture Denis Minihane.

“From there he went to work at M.J Mayes where he worked up to the position of manager. On leaving there he went to Lombards again as manager and he learned that personal service and consideration for the customer should always be a vital priority. Then dad started working as manager of a self-service supermarket.”

An opportunity opened up for Michael to start his own business, an ambition he had always harboured.

“When the premises at 22, McDermott Place, was on the market, he realised his search was over,” says Brian. “It was like a dream come true for him.

“The small shop was known as Nan Carr’s. It was ideal as there was already a shop there and plenty of room for a large supermarket at a later stage.

“The yard beside it was a coach yard where the horses bringing mail would change for return journeys.

“Dad decided to join the Spar group as he realised his customers would get the best value for money together with the added advantage of always having availability of goods.”

Michael and his wife, Sheila, made a good team.

“My mother, a well-known sports woman, had also a wide experience of the business because she owned her own grocery business before she married dad.”

Michael liked to keep things local.

“When he built the new building, he employed all local tradesmen. He was a Fermoy man through and through.”

Michael is a hearty 91 years old now and he has an extended family.

“The staff are really an extension of the business. We all look after each other,” says Brian, who took over the running of the shop after he left school.

“Growing up, myself, Mark, and Ann all helped out; and I grew into it,” says Brian, who has two sons, Thomas and Colum.

“My wife Elizabeth helped out as mam and dad eased off.”

Brian was familiar with shop-keeping from a young age.

“I was used to being here on my own aged 16 and 17 when mam and dad had a day off.”

Brian got to know all the customers that frequented Shinnicks. He said: “95% of our trade is local trade and we know all our regular customers by their first name.”

Michael and Brian Shinnick, proprietors, in Shinnick's Spar shop, Fermoy.
Michael and Brian Shinnick, proprietors, in Shinnick's Spar shop, Fermoy.

One customer had a long history and a long relationship with the shop.

“Siss Geaney was a resident of Fermoy Community Hospital, she used to shop here and she became a great friend of ours. She lived to be 108!”

There were other customers of note.

“We had a regular customer - a daily reader of the Echo by the way - who had a basket full of shopping and the banter was flying to such an extent that she duly walked out of the shop, basket in hand, full of shopping without going to the till to pay,” recalls Brian.

“We left her off home across the road and broke our hearts laughing when we watched her take ‘the walk of shame’ back across the road to the shop to pay for her shopping! We still joke about it to this day.”

What else does Brian remember growing up in the shop?

“I remember the gallons of sweets, the boiled sweets and bulls’ eyes that were weighed and sold in small bags.

“I remember selling single cigarettes from a packet of Woodbines. We’d open a packet of five and sell one.”

Brian was popular at his school, St Coleman’s in Fermoy.

“When the boarders decided to have a party in the dorm, I’d supply the Tanora or the orange as a mixer for their drinks. I never got blamed because I was a day pupil!”

Brian Shinnick, postmaster, and his sister Ann Yesiltas, post office assistant, in Shinnick's Spar shop, Fermoy. Picture Denis Minihane.
Brian Shinnick, postmaster, and his sister Ann Yesiltas, post office assistant, in Shinnick's Spar shop, Fermoy. Picture Denis Minihane.

Brian remembers how much some items cost back in the day.

“A jar of jam was 13p, a swiss roll was 10p, a box of Whizz firelighters was 5p.”

Brian says the busiest day of the week was always Friday.

“It was payday and pension day,” says Brian. “When we had a ‘book’, people used to pay off their bill on a Friday.”

Shinnicks kept up old traditions.

“Our main trade is still local trade,” says Brian. “Now we have the siblings and the children of our original customers shopping here. We have a lot of new customers too and some passing trade as well. No day is the same; we see different people and we share different news. Being a family-run shop, we are a big part of the community.”

The shop has both young and old customers.

“We call St Joseph’s School the school around the corner,” says Brian laughing. “It has 100 pupils and we know them all and we share a bit of banter between us.”

Shinnicks had some drama at times.

“We had a couple of break-ins over the years,” says Brian.

“The worst one was on a Wednesday afternoon when we were closed. Everyone was gone to the seaside and the shop and the house were ransacked. It was a big shock. Luckily our suppliers helped us out.”

Ther’s been excitement at Shinnicks too.

“Paul McGrath was in Fermoy a while back through a Spar connection,” says Brian.

“He’s a pal of an old classmate of mine and Paul was down for the Sports Star Awards. He signed autographs and he signed footballs for the kids. The kids were thrilled when he took photos with them.”

Brian and Elizabeth are thrilled with their customers and with their staff.

“As well as me and Liz, we employ 12 people, full time and part time,” says Brian.

“One staff member, Catherine Manswell, is here 38 years; she is very popular and she loves the old chat.”

Brian loves the old chat too.

“One of the things I love about work is the great banter we have with the customers.”

He is happy going to work every day.

“It’s like, Hey ho, hey ho, it’s off to work I go!”

Does he take time out from the shop?

“I go to the races for a day out now and then. I enjoy that.”

Brian enjoys working in the family business.

“I love meeting the people and I try and help them out as much as I can.”

He and Elizabeth make a good team.

“Most importantly, the business would not survive today without the huge impact of my wife Elizabeth (Liz). We make a good team!” says Brian, who is a chip off the old block.

“My dad loved always helping people out.”

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