One of Dublin’s iconic family businesses closed its doors for the last time on Friday when The Pen Corner on College Green closed after 95 years.
he distinctive Pen Corner storefront on the corner of College Green and Trinity Street has stood proud since it opened in 1927 and current owner John Fitzgerald admitted the decision to close was made with a heavy heart.
John has run the iconic Dublin store since 1988, when his father passed away, and said he has seven decades of memories and stories to treasure from the family business.
“I remember I was six or seven years old and my brother locked me in the downstairs storage room and I couldn’t get out, he still haunts me,” John laughed during the last hours of work on Friday afternoon.
“I remember as children we were warned that when adults entered the store, children should be seen and not heard. You couldn’t have that today.
“What I will miss most is the genuine warmth of human kindness. The people you meet and the stories that come out of that. The characters and the interactions you have with them. You don’t know them but you share a moment and then you get to know some of them well and they become regular customers. That is what I will miss the most,” John told The Irish Independent.
It’s getting harder for small businesses to survive in the current climate, John says, given technology and the growing influence of large corporations. Eventually, he reached a “tipping point” where it no longer made financial sense to keep the doors open, despite his desire to maintain the family tradition at 12 College Green.
“People often think of businesses as vehicles for making money, but with small family businesses like ours, it was always just about one family surviving and providing employment, wherever possible.
“It’s too hard to compete with corporations and everything else these days, that’s the way it’s been, unfortunately,” John said.
The business has had some famous clients over the years, from Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain to The Matrix co-creator Lana Wachowski, but John will fondly remember the regulars who have obscured his recognizable storefront for years.
“Many of my regular customers would have been coming here for 30, even 50 years or more, and would remember the place from when my father had it or even longer.
“It is the chats and camaraderie with those loyal fans that we will miss the most, but also providing personalized service to customers. I don’t think the current generation is very good at being served,” John said.
The loyalty John spoke of was evident when friends and clients arrived with flowers, gifts and well wishes to commemorate a bittersweet occasion that is the last day of business for a family business.
He said the last few weeks have seen an uptick in business thanks to the goodwill of customers who had heard of The Pen Corner’s impending closure.
John is proud that his family will be forever linked to the iconic Dublin street and proud of the tradition that has been carried through generations from great-aunt Florence O’Brien in 1927 to him today.
The shop front that is familiar to most Dubliners has been there since the 1960s, but it may not be around much longer, as John admits there’s not much left to do other than “give the keys back to the owner”.
He admits that when he took over the business in 1988 he asked himself, “Am I a fool for doing this?” but given the relationships fostered over the years, it was a decision he’s glad he made.
“Some of the clients that have come back after Covid exist before I am here. Her souvenir from the store is from my great aunt’s time and that’s really lovely.
“There is a familiarity and a friendship there. I think we’ve done a good job,” said John.