Health and Fitness

Our defunct corner shop wasn’t fancy but it has left a gaping hole

I find myself in a small rage every time I walk down the street where I live in Dublin. Specifically, when I walk past the corner where our neighbourhood shop used to be. Used to be. It closed five years ago. There had been a shop in that location for half a century.

Ahmed was the lovely man who was presiding over the shop by the time I moved to the neighbourhood, 11 years ago. He knew my name, and the names of all his other customers. He came to the occasional street parties we held in our cul-de-sac. He gave me chocolates at Christmas. I dropped the odd croissant in to him on the way back from my Sunday walks to the Bretzel Bakery. Even when I didn’t go in, and was instead walking or cycling past, I’d wave, and he’d wave back.

Frequently, I went into the shop to find him gently holding court with an older man whom I regularly saw wandering around the streets, always carrying the same shopping bag. Ahmed always made him tea. The shop was not a cafe, but to this one particular customer – whom I never saw buying anything – it was his local cafe, where tea was served in the same mug each time by a kind, inclusive and non-judgmental proprietor.

As for myself, I dropped in regularly, as it was handy, which is the whole point of the now ever-vanishing local shop, whether located on a corner or not.

Our now defunct corner shop was not fancy. There was no artisan anything. There were tins of beans, and some small plastic toys, and sweets in boxes on the counter sold by the piece. There were also eggs, litres of milk, pounds of butter, washing-up liquid, J Cloths, bars of chocolate, and newspapers, including this one. Useful stuff. Stuff you’d find you had run out of, but not so critical to necessitate a more lengthy trip to a larger shop with more choice.

In 2016, Ahmed told us the shop was closing. The owner was selling. Dublin City Council had given permission for a proposed development. The shop was to be demolished and a four-storey apartment building was to be built on the site itself. These things happen every day in cities and towns all over Ireland. It’s progress. Cities are not static places, nor should they be.

There was a vocal campaign to try to save the shop by a group of neighbours, which attracted some measure of publicity. Of course it didn’t work. Commerce won out. Dublin is a city that even in 2016 was in dire need of a lot more housing. A four-storey apartment block would provide some more homes, especially in an area where there are not many apartments.

The shutters went down at the end of that day, and they never went up again

The day came in 2016 when Ahmed opened the corner shop for the last time. He was giving away what was left of the stock. Children were being presented with the last tins of fizzy drinks from the fridges that would soon be empty. Neighbours called in all day to say goodbye. I arrived with a Thank You card and came away with a bag of iced buns. Ahmed said he was hoping to find another lease in another shop somewhere not too far away. He was resigned, but cheerful. We were just genuinely sad to be losing another piece of the jigsaw that is community and social history, as well as the place we went to buy eggs and milk and newspapers.

The shutters went down at the end of that day, and they never went up again. They are still there. In July 2016, An Bord Pleanála refused the permission Dublin City Council had granted to demolish the existing building and construct a small apartment block on the site. Since then, nothing has happened in terms of development.

What has happened instead is that within a fairly swift space of time, our former local corner shop began to disintegrate. Windows were broken. Graffiti was added to the gable wall. The place was broken into and then it was boarded up. I went away for a few days, and when I came back, there had been a fire in the building. You can still see the black smoke stains around the upper shattered windows, where ragged curtains fly in the breeze.

It is all the most colossal waste. Five years have passed since Ahmed lost his lease on the shop that gave him his livelihood. I don’t know where he is now. Five years have passed since we lost our local shop. The people who could by now be living in those apartments that were never built never moved in. What we are left with is an ever-more dangerous building, that is becoming more and more depressingly derelict by the day. It is the exact opposite of the welcoming anchor it once was on that street. What was it all for?

No matter what happens in the future – and surely some day, something new will indeed be built there – some part of our community unnecessarily died in the meantime. A derelict building in any city is a building with no soul. This is why I find myself in a small rage every time I walk past the former corner shop on our street.

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