End of an era for Wynnes
It is a Friday afternoon in Castlebar and the town’s Main Street is looking pristine thanks to the new streetscape but for one of the town’s oldest and most familiar businesses it is the end of an era.
Richard Wynne is inside the vacant premises that his family held for 147 years before he was forced to close on Monday of last week and it is impossible not to feel for his plight. He’s the fourth generation of his family to run the business and he admits to feeling a certain ‘historical guilt’ at the closure.
His great-grandfather Thomas Joseph Wynne set up shop in 1864 with a general store and a renowned photography business. A fascinating man, he’s worthy of a story in his own right. His son Richard Joseph Wynne took over the general store while another son, Thomas, ran the photography business across the road.
Des Wynne, Richard’s father, a well-known character continued the family line. His wife, Ita, took over after his death in 1978 and Richard took over the running of it when he left college in the 1980s. You can sense the history in the place.
Wynne’s was a durable business. It survived two world wars, a land war and various economic recessions. But this current economic recession left Wynnes, like many other businesses, struggling. Ironically it was the very same street re-generation, which aimed to breathe new life into the town centre, which sounded the final death knell for Wynnes.
“The (town) council saw that there was a need to attract people back to Main Street from the new part of the town. Don’t get me wrong, it is badly needed, long overdue and is going to do well for the street. It is unfortunate though that my type of business will suffer because of it as people can’t pull up.
“But the road works were the final nail in the coffin for me. You had signs erected by the County Council on the approach roads to town saying ‘Warning! Delays expected for town centre, avoid Main Street’. Those signs were up for a year and were only taken down last Tuesday, the day after I closed ironically enough,” said Richard Wynne.
“We had some very loyal customers down through the years, people whose mothers and grandmothers shopped here and it is in their blood. Like homing pigeons they come back. But, God love them, it was like a bloody maze trying to get here during the road works.”
Richard Wynne openly admits that he had made the decision to sell-up three years ago but while he sorted out issues with ground rent, a legacy from the infamous Lord Lucan estate, the recession started to take hold and suddenly it wasn’t a seller’s market anymore.
“I was left with two options, to reinvest and struggle on or to call it a day. I decided to stay with it and here we are, three years later. God knows I burst myself for three years. I did my best, I did everything I could but you have to call it. In those three years, we were as unlucky as you could be. We’d normally have a good boost at Christmas but bad weather killed the Christmas trade two years running. The roadworks topped it off.”
While closing, and selling, was always the plan for Richard Wynne, the manner of the closure clearly hurts. His hand was forced rather than being able to choose when to move on.
“My mother passed away in 2006 and I’d spoken to her on a number of occasions on the decision to sell because my life was passing me by. I was seven days a week here and it’s hard to form personal relationships and that sort of thing and I had made the decision to sell, at least in my head.
“But the plan was to trade out and sell in the good times, with the dignity that it deserved and I do feel a certain burden of historical guilt from that but my plan was altered by circumstances. For me and my family it is terrible, it is gut-wrenching. Coming to this decision and having to do it the way we did, that was hard,” admitted an emotional Richard Wynne.
It can be described as another negative recession story. Richard Wynne cites problems with tax increases, local authority rates and planning policy which has seen a pull away from traditional town centres to edge of town retail parks. But, despite his own obvious woes, Richard Wynne sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re closed. It’s sad, it’s tragic. But you can see green shoots starting to appear on Main Street. (Clothes shop) UFO opened up here the week before last, moving back to the street from the new part of town and I see a hairdressing salon has opened up too and there’s talk of another shop about to open. As the phrase goes ‘if you build it, they will come’. Unfortunately, for us, it is just too late. I am unemployed now and I’ll have to try to rent the place.”