Frank O’Mahony, managing director of O’Mahony's Booksellers pictured in front of the shop as it celebrates an amazing 120 years in business
FOR MANY, the book-filled shopfront at O’ Mahony’s seems as old as the fabric of time itself, and this year the flagship Limerick city store is taking a look back at six incredible generations of trading.
After 120 years in business, they have traded through two world wars, with their first year in business marking the discovery of T-Rex fossils and the introduction of the infamous teddy bear toy.
Frank O’Mahony, Managing Director, said that his grandfather J.P O’ Mahony started the business back in 1902 with three staff, no cat and a small shop of about 550 square feet.
“By 1973, the year I started working full-time, we had 26 employees in a shop of about 5,000 square feet,” Frank said, adding that he ran the store with his brother David until 2018, after which he was left to “carry the can.”
Today, the family own five stores, across Limerick, Tralee, Ennis, NUIG and UL, employing between 80 and 120 people with the 120 O’ Connell Street shop covering nearly 16,000 square feet.
While the storefront has seen many iterations throughout the years, Frank is still in awe at the loyalty and dedication of some of O’ Mahony’s customers over the past 120 years.
He described O’Mahony’s as “more than just a bookshop” and said it is touching to have so many regular customers visiting the shop.
“We are fortunate to have not just loyal customers but a cohort of dedicated, long serving staff who bring a wealth of knowledge and personality to our shops,” he added.
One such example was found when staff were digging through old archival material, looking for decades’ old memorabilia and shop history to share as part of the celebratory events.
Ann (81) from Limerick wrote to the store in 1984 and again in 2020 to praise staff for the fantastic work that they do.
She said: “I am 81 years of age and have been dealing with you for many, many years – as an avid reader I had occasion to shop for books during this pandemic and your postal service has kept this old lady very happy.”
President Michael D Higgins also speaks fondly of the O’ Connell Street store, reminiscing on days coming down as a child to the place that started him off on a lifelong journey of books and literature.
Staff also uncovered three old ads placed in the Limerick Leader in the early 1900s. One offered picture framing, stationery, pass books, gold nibs, prayer books and rosary beads.
A second advertised Christmas cards and calendars, while a third enticed potential customers to pick up a pack of gold edge playing cards.
While times have changed and the physical book has been challenged by digital and audio versions, Frank remains unphased, stating that book buying in stores has continued to strengthen throughout the pandemic.
“Books suddenly became popular in the media again. Things like BookTok on TikTok have been amazing. If something gets mentioned on that, the sales go through the roof,” he said.
He added that book sales have been solid for the last number of years and are even continuing to rise. He said “the future is bright” and that parents are “valuing reading as an educational tool.”
“If the last eighteen months have taught us anything, it is that the future is largely unknown. But some of my now adult children are already making plans for the 150th anniversary party in 2052 and the 200th in 2102. I am not sure I'll make that one, but you can think of me,” Frank quipped.
Keep an eye out on O’ Mahony’s website and Facebook for more celebratory events including special book signings and the release of more memorabilia and nostalgic archive material.
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