Tapping the bucks of the Irish
All Things IrishMarch 9th, 2000
COEUR DALENE Ilene Moss suspects that theres a mischievous leprechaun loose in the land who steals Irish-wool knit hats.
She sells such hats at her Coeur dAlene shop, All Things Irish; the funny thing is, she says, most of the people who buy the hats say they brought one home from Ireland then almost immediately lost it.
I dont know if leprechauns are involved or not, but it seems like almost every man who gets a hat over there in Ireland loses it, she says, smiling.
The leprechaun theory, however, doesnt explain the popularity of the other Irish goods Moss sells in her store, at 315 Sherman Ave., here.
The store carries everything from key chains to authentic Irish Bodhran drums to fine Belleek china. There are hand-knit sweaters, Irish linen tea towels, cookies, and baby clothes that sport slogans such as, Twas the luck of the Irish the day you got me. The shop also carries gold Claddagh ringswhich feature a motif of two hands holding a heart thats topped by a crownplus traditional Irish music, posters, and a large display of products emblazoned with the Guinness brewery logo.
I love all things Irish, Moss says of her decision to open the store 15 months ago. I always go to Irish gift shops when I go to a large city. We didnt have anything like this.
Moss, the stores sole employee, says business has been good. She believes she has the only Irish products store in the states of Idaho and Montana, and says she gets lots of customers from those states as well as from Eastern Washington.
She says her love of Irish items seems to be shared by her customers.
Most of my customers have been to Ireland or are going to Ireland, Moss says. For example, she says, one customer recently visited the store to buy several pieces of Belleekdelicate ivory china thats decorated with tiny shamrocksbecause the customer had given away all of the pieces shed brought back from Ireland.
In addition, many of her customers are of Irish descent, as she herself is, Moss adds.
Their heritage is very important to them, she says. Its instilled in them from generation to generation. I think people in Ireland dont realize how proud Irish-Americans are of their heritage.
Irish stores all over the U.S. have capitalized on that pride.
The number of Irish stores in the U.S. rose 42 percent in the last five years, and there now are more than 500 such stores in this country, according to a recent study by the North American Celtic Buyers Association. Total sales of Irish and Celtic products have shot up 142 percent in that period, to $147 million. The study claims further that 71 percent of buyers at Irish stores are Irish-American, and nearly half are regulars who drive 10 miles or more to shop there.
Formerly one of those regulars, Moss says a trip to Ireland persuaded her to leave a 20-year career in manufacturing salesmost recently with Advanced Input Devices Inc. hereto open her store. Shed been considering such a move, she says, but visiting Ireland cemented her decision.
It probably wasnt the products and merchandise in Ireland that made me want to do this, she says. It was the people and the culture. Its so ancient and mystical, youre just in awe.
A Coeur dAlene resident, she says picturesque downtown Coeur dAlene was the logical location for her store.
What I wanted for the ambience and atmosphere of All Things Irish would have never worked in a mall, she says.
When she opened her shop, she stocked the kinds of things she was drawn to, she says, especially collectibles such as Royal Tara spelling reference and Belleek china, and hand-knit woolens. She often gets from her customers ideas for new products to add at the store. She has made a second trip to Ireland to garner ideas for her store, and has developed a network of suppliers in Ireland and in the U.S.
Shes been slightly surprised at the popularity of Irish-themed novelty items, such as buttons, pencils, and even leprechaun shoes made of rubber, Moss says. Shes stocked up on some of those kinds of things, as well as socks, suspenders, and T-shirts, in preparation for St. Patricks Day later this month.
Her goals for the coming year are to start a mail-order business and establish a presence on the Internet. Beyond that, she says, shes gotten so much interest from customers that she might consider opening a second store, either in Spokane or somewhere in Montana.
As baby boomers age, theyre becoming more interested in their heritage, which should boost businesses like hers that help customers connect with their heritage, Moss believes.
Theyre more likely to pass it down to their children than our parents were to pass it along to us, Moss says. I get a whole spectrum of age groups that come in here and are interested in something from Ireland.