The Thursday Tipple: Churchtown Stores, Braemor Road, Churchtown

Two years ago, we bought a house in Churchtown. New era, new world of buying furnishings and appliances, reluctant ventures into the den of DIY. One Saturday, I cut the cord on a hedge strimmer. An assistant in Homebase advised me on what I needed to buy and how to repair it. As he extemporized I thought of an old Woodies ad in which a homeowner asks a teenage staff member where she can find something relating to patios. The narrator explains that all the teenager heard was: “Bla bla bla, bla bla bla bla, bla bla patio bla bla.’ Replace patio with cord and I was the assistant. After I’d attempted to repair the cord, the strimmer plugged in and ready to be switched back on, I looked lovingly at my wife. ‘Well, if I haven’t got this right,’ I said, ‘it’s been real, yeah?’

Before Homebase, I had tried the small hardware store near us. It had a reputation for having everything. It was closed when I got there and I never entered it before it closed its doors for the last time early last year.

Rumours of a wine bar replacing it intrigued me, almost excited me. There are few pubs near us: a community pub twelve minutes’ walk away and a recently re-invented gastropub almost double the distance. I dream of having a ‘local’. Everyone who discovers a thirst at the weekend, on special occasions or when sport or the weather itches their feet should have a pub ten minutes’ away — close enough to walk home quickly from but not close enough that it’s beside the corner shop. When we were looking for a house I’d never considered the issue. Talk of a local establishment, albeit for wine, brought a new kind of dream.

Then, before Christmas, a friend told me a pub had replaced the old hardware store. We revised our plan of a pre-Christmas Friday night squat in the gastropub to a crawl. I read online about the new pub’s provenance. Three bothers, Kieran, Fehan and Barry Flood, Mullingar gentlemen who’d owned and ran a quintessential hardware store for 31 years, had put the shop on the market in the belief someone would take over the business. Nobody shared their dream. Those who bought the property, however, liked the idea of branding the pub in the old store’s likeliness. The balding brothers gave them old stock to enhance the retro look.

On the penultimate Friday night before Christmas, we crawled in, escaping one pub and the bitter cold for the warmth and ambient lighting of Churchtown Stores. It’s slick. Its layout offers a good range of high circular tables, snugs and couches. Like all new pubs, it understands today’s appetite for gins, whiskeys and craft beers. The neat, memorabilia-filled furnishing is also contemporary. Yet that night I heard something unique among the large crowd. It was the hum one finds in a new pub on its first or second weekend, conversation laced with the buzz of discovering a new local, a place where dreams – of pints, sporting glories, insightful or hilarious conversations, (re)connections – of a ‘local’ might come true.

There was an aptness about the smell of varnish filling our senses that night, a fusion of hardware stock and pub furniture, as though the pub is a reincarnation of the hardware store/pub you find (dying out) in rural villages and towns. I wondered if the old owners supplied them with the paints in their closing down sale, or advised them what type to buy. When we left I spotted two elderly, balding men having a drink at a quiet counter of the bar. Too many pints prevented me from identifying it was two of the brothers. I wondered if it was, there because they missed the store’s hum of conversation, or curious for the sound of a new kind of hum.

In an interview last year, the brothers explained that it hadn’t mattered if people had visited the store without spending money. What mattered was that they walked out happy. People would think nothing of ringing and asking for advice. Everyone was a customer of the future.

Churchtown Stores still has a fledgling feel. Christmas is long past and, late January, you can still smell the varnish. No food, tea or coffee is available. Nobody enters yet with a look of ‘returning’. The hardware store probably had a nascent feel once upon a time but it all worked out. I imagine the balding men’s toast of that Friday night: may this remain a place where people meet and get to know others, where they laugh and learn a little. May dreams come true.

I could not see a price list on display (29 January 2019)

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