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Celebrating 30 Years of Irish Service

Why travel to Ireland?

If it's Irish it can be found at The Irish Walk. If it's not in stock or not even carried as a regular item, it can still be purchased at The Irish Walk.

That's the customer friendly reputation enjoyed by one of Old Town Alexandria's longest operating, independently owned retail stores. This past May, Bernadette and Pat Troy, celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the opening their store now located at 415 King St.

"We started out in the 600 block of South Washington Street. We were there until Pat opened Ireland's Own Restaurant on Tavern Square around 1982. That's when we also decided to move the store," said Bernadette Troy, the primary operator of the shop, said.

"When I started out our son was only two years old. There was a place in the back of the store where he could sleep and play," she said. "And, when the kids went to school at St. Mary's they could come to the store after school. It was only a short walk."

However, the drawback was that it was out of the mainstream of retail commerce. "When we were on Washington Street, people came specifically to buy. There was very little or no walk-in business," Pat Troy said.

"Here on Tavern Square people come to look and buy. It's much better exposure. We get 10 potential customers for every one in the old location," he said.

Some of those patrons have been with them from the beginning and in no way could be classified as "walk in" customers. Peggy O'Beirne of Silver Spring, Md., has been a customer for most of the past 30 years.

"They are really a great institution in a great city. Bernadette is one of the nicest people to deal with I've ever known. And, there are just so many wonderful items to choose from," O'Beirne said.

THAT PRAISE was buttressed by another long-time customer, Anne McHugh of Alexandria. "I've been shopping there since 1980. Over the years I've bought just about everything there," she said.

"If Bernadette doesn't have it, she'll get it for you. I can get things at The Irish Walk I can't get even on my trips to Ireland. And, with the exchange rate and Ireland prices, I can get it cheaper right here at their store," O'Beirne said.

The Irish Walk inventory cover the gamut from clothing, to china, to crystal, to jewelry, to figurines, and souvenirs. There is also an array of family heraldry information and items such as family crests and genealogy books.

"Ever since the show River Dance we've sold a lot of Irish dance shoes. We also have a lot of other children's clothing items," Bernadette Troy said.

An item Pat Troy is particularly fond of are the hand-knit Irish wool sweaters. "You can really tell the difference between the manufactured sweaters and the hand-knit ones. You can put your fingers through the hand-knits and when they get a little damp, if you’re out in the rain, you can smell the wool," he said.

Bernadette Troy makes several trips to Ireland each year to do the buying. "We do all our own buying. That eliminates the middleman. But, Ireland has gotten very expensive. Retail items there are higher than they are here," she said.

"When we started it was necessary to travel all over Ireland to pick individual items. Now there is a national buyers' show every year where the various producers of the products come together," Pat Troy said.

"And, we get customers from all over the nation. Recently, there was a man from Washington State in the store. He saw a ring he liked for his wife so he called her on his cell phone. Held the phone to the ring so she could see it and then bought it for her," he said.

District of Columbia resident, Patrick Curran, is another customer who "wouldn't think of shopping anywhere else for something Irish." And, that applies to his breakfast cereal.

"When I was in Ireland I fell in love with this cereal called Flahavan's Oatmeal. It was tasty and very healthy. When I got back, I came to Bernadette and asked her if she could get it. She put it on her list and got it for me," Curran said.

"Besides being courteous and gracious, she goes out of her way to find products for her customers even if they are not in the store. She's also helped me trace my Irish heritage," he said.

"I get all my Irish gifts there, for friends and family. Especially at Christmas time. One Christmas I wanted to get a special set of holiday towels for the kids and she got them. It made for a great Christmas," Curran said.

It's also a store where you have to spend some time to find exactly what you want. "You can walk around the store for two hours because there are so many things hidden from easy sight in every little area," Pat Troy said. "It's like a leprechaun treasure hunt."

Prices, depending on the item, range from $2 to thousands of dollars, according to Pat Troy. The crystal is by Waterford and the china is Belleek. "We are unique in that everything is authentic Ireland. And, we'll do special orders for individual or groups," he said.

BERNADETTE TROY'S TWO employees have been with her for many years which also gives a sense of continuity. Lee Reilly has been serving Irish Walk customers for more than 20 years. And Dottie Christensen, a school teacher, has worked with the Troys on a part-time basis for many years, according to Bernadette Troy.

But, with all the service and myriad products, Bernadette Troy said, "It's harder to survive today. The good years were the '80s and '90s. Since 9/11 things have changed. Business has declined and on-line shopping has hurt. There are very few mom and pop shops left today because rents in Old Town are so high many have not survived."

The Irish Walk is open seven days a week. The hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

"It's a great asset to Alexandria. And when it comes to St. Patrick's Day it's really special," Pat Troy said. That fact is apparent by the day counter over the front door. It counts down the days remaining until the next St. Patrick's Day.