They say that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, but in the recession hit Ireland, it is the humble cobbler that is, if not king, a least a step up from the rest of us.
Martin Duggan is the owner of Duggan’s Shoe repairs on Cork’s historic Shandon Street, a business handed down by his father and one that has served the people of Cork for over 45 years.
As the recession has taken hold, and businesses both large and small have struggled and closed. Duggan’s, as have many cobblers around the recession stricken western world, has seen a significant boom in business.
As purse strings have tightened, the economy and frugality of times past has slowly but surely returned.
Martin attributes the growth in business to a not only people having less money, but also due to a change in attitude, “it’s not just a case of having less money, people also have more time, where before it would be quicker to just buy new, now because so many people are out of work they have the time to visit their local cobbler.”
Where during the Tiger years, Ireland became a disposable society, but when money runs dry, people are not so quick to dispose of sightly worn possessions and buy new.
Martin started out as a cobbler as a child over 40 years ago, helping his father, before inheriting the family business as he got older. He has seen times change, the deep depression of the 1980′s, through the Celtic Tiger of the 1990′s and early 2000′s, and back again to the current recession. He has also seen the decline of Shandon Street, once a traditional centre of commerce in Cork City, it’s fortunes have waned as the new city centre has grown up around Patrick Street.
The majority of the newfound business has come from general maintenance, people taking better care of what they have. That old, but comfortable pair of shoes that have been sitting at the back of the cupboard? Now that people suddenly, and unfortunately, have more time they now opt for a simple and cost effective repair rather than a new pair that needs breaking in.
But even with an upturn in business, Martin’s business is not totally immune to the negative side of the recession. Key cutting, a staple of any cobbler’s business has seen a drop-off.
“When people move house they get new keys cut. But nobody is buying houses these days, so they don’t need new keys.”
Does Martin foresee a drop in business once the recession starts to soften and people become more affluent? Martin hopes that people have learnt a lesson that good times do not last forever. If we take to heart the lessons learned, and take care of what we have and watch our money, maybe next time a recession hits we will be better prepared.