Interior of Irish Imports Ltd.
IRISH IMPORTS, LTD., CAMBRIDGE
Virginia Greenblatt, founder and owner of Irish Imports Ltd, opened her shop in 1973 and just celebrated the shop’s 40th anniversary in 2014.
She imports Irish products from the very best crafts persons and artisans at Kerry Woollen Mills, Studio Donegal and Kennedy of Ardara. The shop is located between Harvard and Porter squares in Cambridge.
We caught up with Virginia and asked her about her success with her Irish gift shop.
What are customers looking for when they come into your Irish shop these days, and what has changed in customer interest over the past decade?
Since the beginning, our choices have always appealed to people looking for quality. Certainly in the last few years there has been more awareness of buying something durable that you can use for a long time. While this was once and still is partly as a function of economy, durability has become a hallmark of quality.
Your products are all Irish-made in an age of globalization. Does the Irish-made signature still carry a brand loyalty?
Yes, definitely. And I think it always has. It goes back to the idea that things are strong and well-made. The older Irish ladies used to say that a good tweed coat will see you out.
What does made-in-Ireland signify to you?
The idea of the attention to detail - - the making of something whether it’s an older style or more contemporary it’s still true to its origins. I would compare this to Lord of the Dance. They kept the original dance form and embellished it to make it more appealing and stylish. The same is true for example of hand-knit sweaters. They’re still using the cable patterns and stitches that belong to the traditional origins but adding something new like a cuff, collar, big buttons, pockets and so forth that lends itself to a more stylish and contemporary product. Quality and style go hand in hand so the melding of the tradition with the stylish appeal is wonderful. The use of color has always been important too. Many of the color seem to me to be a reflection of the natural beauty of the Irish landscape.
Geographically, what types of people are coming into your store?
We do get a lot of Irish-American customers as you would expect and many have romantic or nostalgic reason for coming in. But we also get a lot of non-Irish and people from all age groups. People who know our store, either with or without an Irish connection, are looking for the broader appreciation of Ireland’s legacy of artistry and style. They are looking for natural materials rather than disposable goods. So again, style and substance are key.
Do people come looking for specific Irish goods?
Yes and no. We may have someone looking for something specific like a Mohair throw. They may have received a present of one and are looking to purchase one themselves as a special occasion gift because they love it so much.
On the other hand, we also have customers who want to purchase something Irish for a friend but have no idea what to buy. This really is one of our areas of expertise since we travel to Ireland to hand-selected all of our products. As a result, we have a wealth of knowledge about everything from the crafts person to the legacy behind the craftsmanship and we enjoy the process of working with our customers and guiding them to a suitable purchase. As a result, many of our customers return and many other come about through word of mouth.
The layout of your store is very attractive and spacious. Is the uncluttered look deliberate on your part?
Absolutely. Many of our customers are drawn into the store by something attractive that they see while simply walking by. Once inside, our products are laid out in such a way that you can experience the texture of fabrics and examine our art pieces up close so the layout is crucial. Another important element is not just the presentation of the store but also how we package gifts for our customers. We do a very nice job of packaging gifts so the gift givers has nothing left to do. We like to think we offer it all!
(Read the Travel & Culture Guide interview here).
Thank you Virginia!
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