Art and craft of survival


REMAINING OPTIMISTIC Corry O'Reilly (left) and Antoinette Turpin, pictured inside their iconic Westport store, are upbeat that that they can adapt and survive to get through what will be a challenging 2021.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Áine Ryan

THIS iconic Westport shop may be closed for the third time in this challenging pandemic period but the mood is upbeat and hopeful for co-owners Corry O’Reilly and Antoinette Turpin. Well, they did open during a recession in 1987 in the onetime home of the Flanagan family of Mill Street where the kitchen of Cian’s Restaurant is now.
Over 30 years later, the two friends may not have moved far – O’Reilly and Turpin is around the corner on the top of Bridge Street since 1990 – but they have certainly come a long way, with their much-valued assistant Ann Kelly. Their retail odyssey has been committed from the outset to supporting Irish independent jewellers, as well as a potpourri of other arts and crafts in their atmospheric oasis.    
Speaking to The Mayo News last week, Corry O’Reilly explains: “Our criteria way back at the beginning was to support Irish craft and design and we have stuck with that policy even when it was not trendy. In 1990 we moved onto Bridge Street and just worked away at our business never losing sight of ‘supporting Irish’. We gradually evolved into what we are today, surviving the crash of 2008,” she says.
O’Reilly explains that during that particular challenge they introduced a couple of jewellery ranges from abroad, because of lower pricing, and stopped stocking high-end products, so they were more affordable for their customers.
“Yes, 2020 has certainly been very challenging but very importantly we were not closed in lockdown during the summer months. The staycationers and locals were very very supportive of our business and we really would like to acknowledge that.
“The most challenging part was asking customers to wear a mask, sanitise their hands, and worst of all, only allowing four people into the shop at any one time. This was very difficult as we only have one member of staff in the shop at any one time, and as a result, it was stressful adhering to those rules and at the same time welcoming customers in.”

Going online
Like many other non-essential retail outlets O’Reilly and Turpin was closed from mid-March to early June, October until December 3 and now again since after Christmas.
Like many other small businesses they have established an online shop and website through the Government’s National Digital Strategy and the Trading Online Voucher Scheme (TOV).
“We applied for the TOV and were successful and then the hard work began. We did not get the website launched until the end of November as it took much longer than anticipated and involved a huge learning curve, but we got there. We are very optimistic about the website and once all the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) work and ads fall into place we expect to be very busy,” she continues.
She says that just like all their suppliers, they have had to adapt and change, and their fully stocked shop of Irish suppliers is testament to this innovative ethos.  
“We missed out a bit in the run-up to Christmas by being closed in November, but the Christmas trade does not really kick off until December here in Westport. As soon as we reopened again, our local customers really supported us, plus the online shop,” she continues.

Support and loyalty
O’Reilly stresses that the help provided by Government, Mayo County Council and the Crafts Council of Ireland has been most welcome and invaluable but, of course, the loyalty of their local customers has been paramount, as well as the support from other businesses in the town.  
“There is a great little cohort of shops around us, all very supportive. We have the most wonderful colleague, Ann Kelly, who brings so much calmness and positivity to our shop and we have a very kind, understanding landlord who has been most generous. Also we are so lucky to have our business in such a beautiful town, all beautifully kept to a high standard and therefore, during normal times, we get lots of visitors and holiday homeowners visiting the town and we all benefit from that.”
Clearly the message is an optimistic one for 2021 for O’Reilly and Turpin, despite a dramatic year of lockdowns and restrictions.
“We are looking forward to 2021 and are very optimistic for the year, adjusting to the changes, taking on the many challenges but as in the past we will survive them. Change is good,” Corry O’Reilly concludes.