One of the things which worries me most about life around me at the moment is the tendency of people to complain and moan and whinge. So as far as possible, I am trying to avoid falling into that trap and I will freely admit I do not always succeed.
I want to say nice things about a couple of shops in particular, both shops which I have been in a bit recently, one where I tend to spend quite a lot of money and one where I will, at some point in the next year or two, spend what is for me, a seriously amount of money, in one go (and no, I am not talking about a car dealer).
I’ve written, previously, about the people at the Pen Corner. I want to reiterate this. I have significantly more pens in my possession now and a substantial collection of bottled ink to go with the fountain pens, all of which came from the Pen Corner. The staff there, in my experience, are unfailingly friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about their stock. They have beautiful pens (I learned this weekend that they have Du Pont fountain pens, another thing for me to aspire to) and they have beautiful stationery downstairs. They are a reliable source of Rhodia paper, for example, some beautiful greetings cards, beautifully handbound notebooks. As a source of beautiful things, it is second to none in Dublin.
I’ve lately been in a place called Pianos Plus too. This shop used, quite a long time ago, be in the city centre, somewhere around Temple Bar I think. It is now somewhere off the M50,. I know how to get there (now, after several occasions getting lost somewhere around what I think is called Park West or the Nangor Road – it’s a bit like a vortex in there).
I love Pianos Plus. I have just one childhood dream left at this stage of my life and that is to buy a grand piano for myself. It is why, for example, I haven’t bought any piano yet. A piano is for life and I want my piano to be a grand piano. And having spent time in Pianos Plus, I have also decided that it will most likely be a Kawaii. I’ve wanted it for a very long time, and a few weeks ago, knowing that it will be another few months to a year before I get there, I just felt the need to go and check that this was still the case. It is.
The people in Pianos Plus are, like the people in the Pen Corner, unfailingly helpful, and absolutely knowledgeable about the pianos they sell. I can tell you right now that there is a most beautiful reconditioned 1882 Bechstein in there; I played it a few weeks ago and fell in love with it. I’ve been in a lot of piano shops over my life. Some of them have been more or less precious about the instruments they sell. In my experience, if you can demonstrate you know how to play the piano, Pianos Plus are not so precious because they know pianos are there to be played, and not just dusted. This is why, when the time comes, I will buy my piano from them, regardless of where I live in the country. Because they have built a relationship with me ever before I walk in there with the credit card to pay for the piano.
Another shop I want to mention is a shop called John Gunn. If you are interested in photography, the staff in Gunns are unquestionably the sweetest people to deal with. I bought my last camera and my most recent lens in there. Again, they are unfailingly helpful. Their staff demonstrably take photographs. They may be selling you a camera, but they are selling you also the soul that goes with taking good photographs.
Two other specialist shops which I will mention in passing are Kitchen Complements and Stock, both specialist kitchen shops. Pretty much all of the specialist kitchen equipment which I have bought in Dublin has come from one or other of those shops. Again, their staff are unfailingly helpful and knowledgeable about their stock. There is a lot to be said for shops of this nature sometimes.
We lose sight, I think, sometimes, of the importance of the smaller shops, the lower profile shops, the ones that cater to specific audiences. The market for pianos is growing smaller over time, especially for non-digital pianos, for example. Many things are being bought over the internet. The Pen Corner may be a landmark on Dame Street but it is still at heart, a specialist independent store and more people know the outside than the inside.
A city lives and dies on shops like this. If I love Paris, it is because shops like this abound. If I see Dublin, there are far fewer of the specialist independent stores, and those that exist are not really that well known and visited sometimes. This piece is just a little reminder that Saturday afternoon shopping trips are not just about Brown Thomas and the Grafton Street chains.