Buying a building on a then rundown city street was the making of what has become a retail destination for cooks and homemakers.
Brendan Fagan first opened Stock Design in South William Street 50 years ago. It moved a couple of years later to lease number 34 South King Street. At the time, it had already attracted a loyal customer base for what was then a unique product range.
“It was very hard to import goods into Ireland back in those days. There was an opportunity in Dublin,” said Fagan, who recalls selling “tens of thousands” of PVC coated sari aprons, printed with different designs from Bovril to Guinness.
“Everybody in the country must have had one. We made it to the [Sunday World] centre pages, albeit with a kitchen apron. It really took off from there,” he said, adding that he would personally travel to the UK each month to seek out stock and ferry it home.
By 1977, business was brisk enough that Fagan – then only in his late 20s – could scrape together a loan deposit to buy number 34. He would go on to buy the adjoining number 32 in the 1990s.
That was occupied by his sister Anne Bell (née Fagan), who is also marking an anniversary this year – 30 years since she brought upmarket French children’s clothing brand Jacadi, now run by her daughter Suzanne, to the capital.
“There’s stress, grief, problems, but never a boring day in retail,” Brendan Fagan tells The Irish Times.
“When we moved to South King Street, it was a derelict street really, all boarded up with corrugated sheeting,” he recalls. “We couldn’t pay the market price now for those buildings, so we were very lucky, although it was stressful at the time paying back loans as recessions came and went.”
As the surrounding area was developed, including Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre across the road, Fagan said the street evolved from something resembling “bomb-blitzed Coventry” to a pedestrianised city centre hub today.
Pedestrianisation was positive for businesses in the area but he is wary of the growing pressure to increase pedestrianisation, not least as many of his customers tend to be buying more bulky products.
“Shops like ourselves would depend on car owners who come in to collect heavy casserole dishes or bulky items, you might struggle to get them home on a bicycle, bus or a Dart,” he says. “The Dublin City Council policy of trying to reduce cars by 40 per cent, that’s possibly going to be a challenge and I’m not too sure it’s the right direction for a city like Dublin,” he said.
With the Fagan family continuing to serve generations of Dublin customers in Stock Design and Jacadi, Fagan said good relationships are the key to running a good business.
“You have to have an interest in people, and you have to have a team around you. In Stock Design or Jacadi, we have very good teams, because you can do nothing by yourself,” he said.
His sister has already handed over the reigns to the next generation in Jacadi, and 74-year-old Fagan also hopes to pass the torch in the next few years. He is mentoring current senior staff to run the business without him.
“I feel Stock is an institution in Ireland, and I want to see the business continue without me involved. I don’t want to sell out, I want to give the people that are here a chance to run it,” he said.