Cronin’s Menswear was established in 1951 by John Cronin at 59 Oliver Plunkett Street. This family business is now managed by his son Michael, who started working in the shop part-time in the summer of 1964, and full-time in 1975.
In the sixty years since it opened there have been major changes in the retail trade, but Michael reported to us that the biggest change was in their suppliers. While in the shop's early days virtually every item of clothing was acquired in Cork city or its surrounds, today much of the clothing comes from abroad. Michael recalled going to Washington Street as an eight-year-old to pick up piles of shirts made in Dwyer’s factory.
Most of the other suppliers were also from the locality: Socks came from Mahony’s of Blarney, O’Gormans of Shandon Street specialised in hats and caps, gloves were made in the South Terrace, while knitwear came from Blackpool and South Main Street. Ties were sourced from further afield in Dublin. "In Dublin, all the tie companies were in the vicinity of the Heuston Railway Station and among them was the Central Tie Company." These are just some of the many local suppliers which Michael can recall.
The types of clothes stocked have also changed over the years. In older days the shop stocked long johns and knitted underwear. Michael also says that shirts were made of sturdier material, and more waterproof clothes were required for workers. "In those days farmers needed hard-wearing clothes. The tractors had no cabs on them like today, so the farmer was exposed to the elements." The shop's supplier of waterproof clothes, Ideal Weatherproofs, was also city based — on Union Quay.
Interviewed in June 2014 for this website, Michael recalls the decline in Irish manufacturing:
In the era of protectionism everything sourced from the UK came with an additional 60% duty. As Irish suppliers made clothes cheaper than this, they were the dominant suppliers. When the market was opened up in it killed off the local suppliers. It is a stark change from the situation today. When we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary in 2001, Kanturk Knitwear was the only remaining local supplier. They were great suppliers, you could ring them up and they would have a jumper or garment made for you by the next day.
However, since 2001 Kanturk Knitwear has also gone out of existence.
Despite these changes Michael noted that modern trends, like recycling, were regularly practised in Cork decades ago:
Long ago everything was recycled. Even the cartons used for deliveries. These were made out of sturdy cardboard, not like today’s boxes and would take goods from the city to destinations around the county. When we were finished with these cartons my father would give them to a local beggar on the street who was known to city people as ‘Andy Gaw’. He would then sell these boxes to others business acround the city. In time he made a lot of money from this enterprise. Later he came back to the shop and he bought my father and mother a pair shoes to give to me, as a token of appreciation for the help they had given him. That was my first pair of shoes.
Michael attributes Cronin's ability to adapt to new trends in fashion as one factor behind their survival after sixty years of business. "During my time here I have seen the width of trouser legs go in, go out, and come back in again. All the trends run in cycles."
The changes continue to this day. He explains that there has been an upsurge in the popularity of hats in recent years. With increasing awareness of the risks of excessive sun exposure, wide brimmed sun hats are proving very popular. Cronin’s stock traditional caps for the older man as well as new more stylish designs. "Three years ago our most expensive hat was €39.95, today our most expensive hats cost €95.95." People are willing to pay for quality and among the shop's most exclusive pieces is a Stetson Panama hat, hand-woven in Ecuador.
Michael also points out that Oliver Plunkett Street is a great, busy street to trade in. The personal service and attention to detail in the local shops such as Cronin's cannot be rivaled. Key to this is its after-service: "If something isn’t right it can be returned or if adjustments are needed we are only happy to help".
Changes have been stark in the time since Cronin's was established in 1951. Michael can recall a Richie Ryan of CIE (Córas Iompair Éireann) delivering local supplies to the shop by horse and cart. Cronin's had to be adaptable to cope with the changes occurring in society. Its place in Cork’s retail history and in memories of the city from a different era give Cronin’s a special character, a character that endures in many of the local business on Oliver Plunkett Street.