“Starting up was far easier back then. It’s much more difficult to launch a retail business today”
Sadly, the messages are coming at a time of change, earmarked with ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ as the shop is closing its doors 33 years after they first opened, almost to the day. So how much can a shop mean? Let the customers tell you. Many of the comments talk about ‘great memories’, rather than just ‘great shop’. That’s a start.
Eager Beaver seemed to be a place to hang out with friends, to see and be seen. Like all things that last so long, there is a legacy. One customer recalls how he had recently brought his sons in to see the shop he visited as a student. Others talked about how no trip to Dublin will be the same again.
It would be easy to slip into dewy-eyed reminiscence when talking about it all, especially in conversation with owners Robert and Siobhán Woodnutt, the husband and wife duo still at the helm of the vintage clothing store on the corner that has weathered recessions, booms, trends and tastes.
Most major cities will have a shop like that, or if they’re lucky, a few. When news comes that they’re closing down, it’s often met with disproving ‘sign o’ the times’ sentiment. A city can only stand to lose so many of these kinds of shops before they begin to rewire their very own DNA. It’s a cautionary tale. The Eager Beaver is already an endangered species. Now it’s sadly extinct.
That’s the thing with places so deeply woven into the cultural fabric of a city. Something else doesn’t just replace them. It takes a long time to reach this kind of stature. There’s a staying power involved that shops rarely seem to have now. It’s all about following the money. Making a buck and then making a move.
“In 1986, the properties were cheap and around the area there was a lot of artistic and alternative types of people.” Robert tells me, painting a picture deeply at odds with Temple Bar now. “My wife had a background in vintage clothing and it became a combination of the skills,” Robert went on. Those skills being referred to were the Dublin native’s eye for business. Don’t mistake him for an office-dweller though.
Eager Beaver broke ground after Robert was made redundant from a steel factory in Dublin. The shop’s eye-catching name came after a stint as a DJ for a ship’s on-board radio. Broadcasting his selection of songs for all interested ears as the ship sailed around the Indian Ocean and Far East. Robert’s slot was called the ‘eager beaver’, a name he felt too good to leave behind on deck.
Temple Bar retained the charm of a forgotten Dublin for longer than most of the city. As developers moved into the capital in the 1960s, Temple Bar was left largely untouched, somewhere to build around rather than in. Fast-forward two decades and bus company were Coras Iompair Eireann planning a depot. Temple Bar needed a facelift.
As an incentive for businesses, the area was offered at low rent to kickstart a micro-economy and artists, studios and independent traders soon flocked to the area. Robert and Siobhán were two of the early proprietors, “When we opened up here, there weren’t many vintage shops around. The second-hand stores weren’t quite built up like proper shops at that point, with window displays and things,” Siobhán told me.
A country deep in recession at that point, the business was a risk, but they were able to offer something to people. Quality second-hand clothes at an affordable price. It was a business-model that found almost immediate success and Temple Bar continued to grow.
Situated on Crown Alley, the street right outside of Eager Beaver was the first to become pedestrianized in 1990. This quickly changed the footfall of the area and a changing demographic prompted Eager Beaver to begin selling more retro and vintage clothes, rather than just second-hand fare.
Temple Bar largely followed suit and the area became closed off to cars, similar to today. Bars and restaurants began to move in, catering to the increasingly cosmopolitan crowd. Nestled on the corner, the Eager Beaver name developed a sort of cult appeal, enshrined as it was in the contemporary folklore of a changing Dublin.
Housed in a former printworks, Robert recalls the original building (same location, but the block was demolished and re-built in 2008) as an ‘elegant heap’, a place that undoubtedly had a certain character, yet a building he smiles about as probably being unfit for the growing demands of the business. In 2000, the couple bought it outright.
It was the earlier days that held the fondest memories for the couple though. Robert recalled the area as a community, a place where the different traders were able to look out for each other more. It was a simpler time in many ways, “Starting up was far easier back then. It’s much more difficult to launch a retail business today.” Online shopping and soaring rent means there probably won’t be another Eager Beaver.
Inflating rent and the proliferation of bars and restaurants began to alter the make up of those initial days in Temple Bar. Now it feels like a fractured community and Eager Beaver’s exit will only make that more pronounced.
Clothes, their bread and butter, have become increasingly mass produced and homogenised. So are the places that sell them. Carbon-copy high-street stores are beginning to work their way into smaller premises too, stretching their tendrils into all corners.
Robert and Siobhán couldn’t have been further from that. Old black and white photographs of them show an effortless style, free of ostentation but still standing out in bold but timeless pieces. It’s these sorts of items that people can still remember buying there.
Could independent businesses in Dublin begin to find the possibility of closure more tempting than staying open? Owners can net a lot of money renting out a property rather than forking that same figure out themselves. Independent retailers are necessary though and Dublin’s City Council must look at ways to preserve them, whether through tax breaks or other initiatives.
Supporting small local business doesn’t just say something about the shop, but the person shopping there. You’re putting your money where your mouth is and investing in the world you want to see, a community where people still interact.
With the shop closed, Robert and Siobhán look set to take a well-deserved break. They’ll still be around though. Dublin isn’t just Eager Beaver, but their home. Robert assures me he’ll now be spending a lot more time watching his beloved St. Patrick’s Athletic football club.
Business might not be everything, but small ones kind of are. They’re at the core of how a city functions and with each one you lose, the city also loses a bit of itself. Every closure is a step away from a community and every step away from a community is a step towards a future that few desire. That’s why we must do our best to make sure this story is one that won’t be repeated.
Words: Edd Norval
Photos: Malcolm McGettigan