Written by Georgina Downes | Photographs by Johanna Simon

CH is hopping. Brows are being waxed, perfume is being sampled, eyes are being tested, gifts are being wrapped. And that’s just downstairs. Upstairs is just as busy. The Beauty Lounge sees a stream of customers, here for relaxation, pampering, rejuvenating. Ladies treat themselves to pre-Christmas manicures, choosing bold, festive colours while girls in neat teal uniforms buzz around, helpfully answering queries and ringing up sales on the tills. My own nails could do with some TLC but no luck. The best they can do is put me on a waiting list. It’s hectic but it feels calm at the same time. This is due to CH’s recent revamp which has decluttered the shop floor, adding a Feng Shui vibe to the flow of traffic. The new space is brighter, more open and feels fresh.   

“We’re still tweaking things,” Peter Harty tells me, “But so far, feedback has been very positive and customers seem really happy with the new look.”

I’m talking with Peter and his sister Clare Harty. We are sitting in a sleek, spick and span treatment room, having a chat about running a family business, learning from past generations and their favourite fragrances.

Their father was Fionán Harty, a pharmacist in Rock Street. When he married their mother, Patricia Chute, Chute and Harty became known as CH Chemists. The couple were ambitiously progressive and extended the business, creating a successful, thriving company. In 1988 Clare, a qualified optometrist, joined the firm and developed the optician side of things while Peter, a qualified  pharmacist, joined a year later. CH Chemists is now one of the largest independent chemists in Ireland.

Clare, the eldest, tells me working with her brother is easy.

“He does his thing in the pharmacy and I do mine. We aren’t really on top of each other at all,” she laughs.

Peter, quietly-spoken and supremely polite, agrees. “We get on very well,” he smiles.

“Training was very important to our father. He made sure he was aware of new innovations and methods. Every Monday morning he would hold a staff meeting so everyone could come together and share ideas and keep up-to-date. We still hold Monday morning meetings to this day. And teamwork. We learned the importance of good teamwork from our parents.” Clare tells me.

The idea of renovating CH Chemist was mooted two years ago and after various consultations, ideas and many vision boards later, they finally settled on UK retail designers Dalziel & Pow.

“Businesses have to move with the times,” Peter says and while the pharmacy side of CH is not radically altered, the optician side has had a major revamp.

Loving the yellow, I tell Clare and she nods, also delighted with the new look. It’s upmarket and elegant, stocking designer frames from Victoria Beckham, Jimmy Choo and Prada. Clare tells me that the quality of the Beckham frames is spot-on, the style is quirky and the price tag isn’t outrageously expensive either. I’ll put them on my Christmas list.

This is obviously a hectic time for CH and as forward-thinking business people I ask how they balance the online side of their trade to the instore side. Do they compete? Clare tells me they don’t. In fact, the online business is made up of local people who enjoy the convenience of the click and collect option which allows customers to reserve items and collect onsite, and of shoppers from outside Kerry, who get their purchases mailed directly, so it’s all good.

So what are people buying in CH this Christmas.

“Vouchers, including the Tralee Shop Local voucher, are very popular. Fragrance is always a big seller. Yves Saint Laurent Libre Eau de Parfum and Suzanne Jackson’s SoSu is huge this year.” Peter tells me that, personally, he likes Bleu by Chanel.

I ask Clare, with all these makeup ranges at her disposal, which ones does she use and why.

“Our new IT Cosmetics from L’Oréal is brilliant, especially the mascara.”

Oh?

“I have sensitive eyes and I have people coming to me in the opticians with the same problem. Their eyes might start streaming with some products but the IT Super Hero Mascara is brilliant. And their CC cream is great too. It goes on so nicely and it’s flying out the door.”

Duly noted. CH Chemist is the only independent pharmacy to stock IT cosmetics in Ireland, so it’s quite the coup. The IT range is unique in that they do not use any airbrushing in their advertising. The range is aimed at delivering superior results for every woman, not just models. And let’s not forget the men. Male grooming products are very prevalent this year and increasingly, male cosmetics are finding their way onto shelves usually the sole preserve of the ladies.

“The younger generation, male and female, are much more into grooming than we were.  Years ago we needed half an hour to get ready, now they need three!  I’m all for it though!” Clare laughs. Personally, I needed about three minutes. A bobbin to tie up the mane, a slick of Vaseline on the gob and I was ready, but we are going back a bit.

As I leave through the glass doors I look up at the beautiful, new double height ceiling that pours light onto the entrance. A glance over my shoulder sees the hive of activity, still buzzing away, and it will continue to buzz until 6pm on Christmas Eve. CH closes for Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day but will reopen again at 10 o clock on Friday, 27th.

Happy Christmas!