24th September, 2005
Kennys Bookshop To Close its Doors and Move Online
It is with great sadness that we learned that one of Ireland's great cultural institutions, Kennys Bookshop, is to close its doors in early 2006 as part of a relocation which will see its book business move wholly online. The High street and Middle street premises, which are owned by the company, are to be leased out whils\'t the company's operations will relocate to its export centre in Liosban, Galway. Kennys art gallery will also move to new premises at Galway's dock gate.
Kennys already does the bulk of its business online, benefiting from the much lower overheads which that approach entails in the face of increasing competition from organisations, such as chain supermarkets, who bulk buy best selling books and then distribute them to the public at a price no independent bookseller can match. The unrestricted growth in commercial rents, which have already closed many small businesses in England in favour of 'cloned' high street stores, may also be a factor as the premises are now probably more valuable as a rental property than as going concern.
The real loss to Ireland however is that the bookshop had grown over the decades from a prosaic place of business to a cultural institution where many famous books were launched and paintings unveiled. For example, Donal Haughey's RTE documentary on Kennys, entitled 'Books In The Blood', featured precious footage of Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney recounting an amusing anecdote concerning fellow laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer to a rapt audience at one such launch.
Ireland's literary, artistic and academic communities made Kennys bookshop the centre of their activities and the many photographs on its walls, taken by the Kennys themselves, depicting the famous authors who had visited the premises became a major tourist attraction. Indeed, it was a badge of honour among authors to have their photograph taken by the Kennys and an acknowledgement of their status in the world of art. Kennys bookshop was, to the many artists who sought refuge in its hallowed alcoves, much as a tree is to a nesting bird.
The Kenny family have achieved much over the decades but, in our opinion, their crowning achievement of the 20th Century was their patronage of the painter Sean Keating, whose reputation as one of Ireland's major artistic figures was re-established thanks to two exhibitions of his work held by Kennys in 1968 and 1972 respectively. The result of these shows was to place Keating firmly in the public eye at a time when he himself feared that he would be forgotten by an artistic establishment more interested in artists from the 'Modernist' movement. A subsequent appearance on RTE's Late Late Show, again arranged by the Kennys, further cemented his reputation.
The next time you read about a cultural institution such as Kennys closing its doors just ask yourself, when was the last time you went to a book launch in a supermarket or heard Seamus Heaney read from his latest work in a fast food outlet?
What shall we do for timber ? The last of the woods is down.