Text by Georgina Downes

Photography by Johanna Simon

If you were to look at a photograph of Tralee town centre from 100 years ago, chances are you’d struggle to recognise any of the businesses or indeed any of the structures at all. But there is one building that you’d definitely know. It’s been standing proud since the 1860s and it’s built on the site of the old Desmond Castle boundary wall, ensuring its credentials as one of Tralee’s most historic retail outlets. That building is Dan Fitzgerald’s.

The shop is laid out over two floors and is deceptively large, housing an extensive selection of clothes, accessories, homeware and jewellery. It’s a veritable Aladdin’s cave of beautiful things and quality goods; gorgeous crockery here, fabulous lamps there; a stand full of lovely tea pots by the steps, an entire section of fluffy towels and sheets along one wall. Dan Fitzgerald bought the building as a going concern in 1977. He started off with one premises and eventually ended up purchasing the three adjacent buildings which were amalgamated to make one big store. Now his sons, David and Maurice, run it between them. I speak to David and find out what it’s like doing business in Tralee today.

“Retail is going through an uncertain cycle. Kerry hasn’t benefited that much from the turnaround either. Pedestrianizing the high street has produced mixed results. Before, an older person could get dropped off outside the door to do their shopping but now it’s not that easy and they could be faced with a long walk. It can be problematic for people with disabilities too. But having said that, it works well in the summer months.”

I ask David what it’s like being in charge of such a well-known and much-loved Tralee landmark.

“It’s a nice link to the history of the town. Most of the other shops along here are from the early 20th century. We love the building but sometimes the restrictions can be a little inconvenient. If we want to do any interior or exterior work we have to have an archaeologist come out to have a look and we always need planning permission. But preservation is important to us. ”

“Dad was the first person to extend the shop into the second floor. Before that, the couple who owned the building lived upstairs. Back in the 1980s, Santa used to have a grotto up here too,” David smiles.

Speaking of Christmas, how is Fitzgerald’s gearing up for the festive season?

“Well, this is our busiest time of year. The best sellers for Christmas are usually candles, jewellery, socks, night-ware, Christmas bedlinen for the little ones and lingerie. Husbands getting handbags or jewellery for their wives. Not always, but handbags are a popular gift.”

I admit to David that I had forgotten Dan Fitzgerald’s sold lingerie as I rarely see it in the window display.

“Oh yes. We stock all the leading brands; Triumph, Spanx, Anita and Shock Absorber. We also offer a personalised fitting service and there are fitting events once or twice a year.”

Interesting. How do customers find out about that?

“We put it out on social media,” David tells me. In fact, Dan Fitzgerald’s has an impressive website. If you can’t make it to the store, don’t worry. Nearly all of their stock is available online. They also offer a click and collect service.

“We package all the goods up here in the shop and send them out.”

Like Santa’s elves?

“Pretty much,” David laughs.

There are a lot of people, both young and old, milling around as I talk to David. Who is their main customer, I ask.

“Mostly woman from 35 years upwards. They would generally be people who have a greater attachment to the town and to the community and who want a different experience when they shop, different from the generic experience they get from multi-nationals.”

I spot the rack of oil cloths, complete with a full selection of cheerful, festive patterns featuring snow scenes and rosy-cheeked Santa Clauses and David tells me they are a big seller. I’m surprised as I thought oil-clothes were considered old-fashioned but apparently not. They are particularly popular among young families.

“Not only are they a very inexpensive way to change up your kitchen décor instantly, they are ideal for arts and crafts and spills and markers and accidents and things like that.”

Of course.

If you are struggling for gift ideas for that special person in your life, I can heartily recommend a trip to Dan Fitzgerald’s . They stock Tipperary Crystal, Waterford Crystal, Nicholas Mosse Pottery, Orla Kiley, Newbridge Silver, Chritsy towels and bedlinen. There are also fetching gift packs of tweed peek caps and matching gloves, Foxford throws and Killarney Woolen Mills blankets. Where else would you get such a selection?

With all of this merchandise at your fingertips, would you say you are a good present-giver?

David laughs again. “I’d probably say I am but I don’t know if my wife or kids would agree. Actually, my wife would say yes because she is polite.”

Finally, I ask David what he is hoping to find in his Christmas stocking this year?

He thinks for a moment.

“A nice Nichols Mosse cafetiere.” He says eventually. “For a delicious Christmas morning cup of coffee.”

Sounds perfect. David’s family, you’re welcome.