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End of an era as stalwart businessman to retire after almost seven decades

Thursday, 31 August 2017

End of an era as stalwart businessman to retire after almost seven decades thumbnailLocal businessman, Raymond Kirk, RK Menswear, Upper Main Street, who has decided to retire after a career spanning almost seven decades in Strabane's retail industry.

A STALWART businessman is preparing to pull the shutters down on a career spanning almost seven decades of trading in Strabane's retail industry.

A well-respected and popular figure within the local community, now at the age of 83, Raymond Kirk says the time is right to hang up his measuring tape for the final time.

When he departs RK's Menswear next month it will mark the end of era. Originally hailing from Urney, he began his career 67 years ago in the same Upper Main Street premises he has successfully occupied for more than 30 years. He is currently the longest-serving businessman in the town.

Admitting that the prospect of stepping away from the business is "heart-breaking", he said the decision to retire was not taken lightly.

"I came in here to this building 67 years ago to serve my time at O'Doherty Limited. It was a huge store which ran from here at this corner right past Harley's. There were eight different departments in that shop with around 30 people working in it. It had everything," said Mr Kirk.

"This building here was the shoe department where you got to know all the leathers. A lot of people in business like Dan McGarrigle, Bernard Houston and Paddy McGarrigle all served their time and worked in O'Doherty's.

"Martin Egan was the manager - the man who taught me everything I know. Initially in those days you had to serve your time for five years and you were put through your ps and qs.

"It's a much different story these days. Then you learned all about quality, sizing and the different companies and materials. It was a completely different era to the modern day but it has stood me in good stead for all my professional life. I'm out on my own around 35 years now."

During his illustrious years of serving the fashion needs of customers from near and far, Mr Kirk says business has always been good even throughout the most challenging of times.

"Things have been good for me all through the years even during the height of 'the Troubles' when you maybe went two or three days without someone through the doors. You kept going. We lived through the bombs and thankfully, I don't know how, but this building here was unscathed. It certainly was a challenging time," he said.

"The people are the town's greatest asset. I know a lot of people in the town and I've made some great friends with those who have come through my doors down through the years."

Over the years he has seen many changes to the town's landscape but as retirement beckons, the veteran businessman feels that the future is bright for the town he loves.

"Thirty years ago, you used to walk down the 'Back Street' (Market Street) and it would have been the same as walking down O'Connell Street in Dublin. People were rubbing shoulders; you'd hardly have got down it. We're also missing the old iconic buildings such as the Town Hall.

"The town is starting to improve and I think its future is bright. It's great to see more businesses coming into the town and that's good for its development. Any thriving town has to have variety."

 

Asked what he believes the success of his menswear store has been, Mr Kirk puts it all down to the quality of goods and service. "It's the personal touch you get when you walk into a store. I can have a man measured up within seconds of him stepping through the doors without the need for a measuring tape," he continued.

"In the big department stores you pick it off the rail yourself and that's it whereas if you come into me or somewhere like this you get the education as regards fittings and quality etc. If the quality of goods and service is there people will always come back. My business comes in from all over the North West."

Looking ahead to retirement, the life-long Gael who helped establish Sigersons GAA Club is looking forward to devoting more time to the things he enjoys outside of work.

"I'm not a man for holidays. I'd rather go to our back gate," he laughed. "I help around St Pat's Hall doing a bit of volunteering so I'd like to devote more time to that as well as the church and Fr Boland.

"Most of my life I've been involved with Gaelic as well. I started off Sigersons. At that time I was also involved in the County Board. I was known as one of the 'Breakthrough Men' of 1967. Fr Denis Faul and I were in charge of the Tyrone minor team who won the All-Ireland. We'll see how it unfolds when the time comes (to step down) but I'm sure I'll keep myself busy - I'll not be sitting in the house anyway."

Before Mr Kirk departs, he is currently holding a 'retirement sale' but he hopes to have vacated the premises by the end of September.

"I've enjoyed my time. It's breaking my heart (to retire).... but due to health and age of course now is the time. I'm hoping that someone will take over the shop. I would hate to see it close down completely," he said.

"It is a great stand and well established with customers coming from all over. If the right person had this place, you could make a go at it. It's a good business with a good customer base and it's in a prime location in the town centre.

"I'd like to thank all my loyal customers from right across the North West who have been very good to me over the years. The support has been unbelievable. As I've said before, Strabane is a lovely town to do business in.

"I'd also like to thank my family. Lillian, my wife and daughter, Aine, have been gently pushing me to step down. They have been a great support throughout my time here, especially Lillian. I've been a diabetic since I left school. I have to take four injections a day and only for her keeping me right, I don't know what I would have been done. She's fabulous and she has been my rock. Aine has also been fantastic.

"I've no definite date yet for stepping down. I still have a fair amount of stock to get rid off but I'm hoping to be out by the end of September," he added.

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