Photo: Anne Barber, on left, with AIshling Keohane at Butterslip in Kilkenny.
"A mad whim" may not, at first, appear to be the best reason to open a shop, but for Anne Barber, that whim paid off with our favourite gift shop, Butterslip in Kilkenny. “I was strolling down the Butterslip lane one evening and saw a For Rent sign on the building and I took it straight away,” Barber laughs.
“It was mad; I had no stock and couldn’t open for four months, but opening my own place had been in the back of my head and it was time to take the jump.”
Established in 2005 in tiny premises on the Butterslip laneway, Barber’s interiors and gift shop soon outgrew its first home. A move to a pretty corner site on Kieran Street and Rose Inn Street also heralded a change in direction inside the store, which now focuses on charming jewellery and accessories from Martine Wester, Rosie Fox and Lovett; beautiful leather bags from Nikka and Olga Berg; a wide range of wedding and baby gifts, and much more.
“It has always been one of my favourite shops,” says reader Loren Wardrop. “I love nothing more than pottering around it, looking in the glass cabinets and shelves at all of the gorgeous things. I can’t recommend it highly enough.”
Sourcing her stock primarily at fairs in London and Paris – “everything must be colourful” – Barber says that although Kilkenny offers a lot of passing tourist trade, it is her repeat customers that keep Butterslip alive.
“What I sell has changed as the people around me changed,” she says. “From new homes to engagements and weddings and now babies, we’ve moved with what is happening in many of our customers’ lives.”
Another reader, Catherine O’Dowd, says she returns regularly because “I can find a quality gift that is a little bit different. I also like that gifts are beautifully wrapped at no extra cost.”
The role of independent retailers is hugely important to her customers, and to Irish towns as a whole, Barber says. “I’m part of the Kieran Street Traders group and that has had a really good impact on the area. They run events and family fun days to build awareness of what’s available on the street. It was pretty run down before and people talk about it being dangerous to walk down in the 1980s. Independent stores have brought life to the place and customers love to see the shops working together and the sense of community. When we can’t help, we refer people to shops nearby. It keeps business in the area or in the city at least.
“I couldn’t afford High-Street rents when I opened. That expense pushes independent retailers on to less popular side streets. But once they’re there, they make the place cooler, and they become the happening places to shop.
“You can’t just leave it there, though. You have to keep shouting about smaller shops, to keep business going.”
RACHEL COLLINS (Irish Times)