By all appearances, when I first saw the pic above, I thought Kennys unassuming. But, I read on and realised that behind this unassuming storefront, is a rich history, one that includes Kennys becoming the second store in the world to have a website.
Jaw off the floor yet? Mine took awhile. The very first store in San Fransisco to have a website has long since closed, but Kennys is still going strong — and offers free worldwide shipping. Can you imagine, way back in 1994, they were inventing online shopping for books, while I, living in South Africa didn’t even know the internet existed?
Kennys is 75 years old, and a survivor. The store has been in business since the 1940s and remains a family business still. In an age when independents can disappear so quickly, Kennys has been a mainstay in Galway. There was a blip in 2006 when the store in High Street closed, but the community rallied to show how much it meant to them and it reopened in 2008.
Things like this make me wonder how many times communities have made the difference between a store closing and remaining open. I look at our little bookstore and the readings, author visits and school holiday events and can see that it works.
Below, Desi, a Kenny answers some questions for me about this icon of Galway.
What book are you getting ready to display in your window/looking forward to adding to the shelves?
What is the most important thing to Kenny’s longevity at 75 years old?
That the family has remained united and strong. We are proud of the fact that three members of the third generation are an integral part of the business.
What sorts of books do you carry?
This question is probably easier answered by what we don’t carry. We have 5.5 million books on the website as well as 200,000 in store. 95% of the stock is second hand and therefore the most common denominator is that nearly all of the books are in the English language with a strong presence of books in the Irish language.
What is the most unusual one you’ve had? Or the most unusual one requested?
A 1560 edition of the Letters from the Jesuit fathers to their relations from the Far East. A customer once asked us for a book that would describe the plumbing system in the Dublin restrooms on June 16th 1904, the day James Joyce met Nora Barnacle.
In all the reading I’ve done, I’ve always read how close the store’s ties are with the community – can you tell us about those ties now?
We have always been deeply involved in the local community and those ties are ongoing. Different members have been involved with Youth Clubs, Sporting Clubs, Theatres, Amateur Musical Societies, The Local Lions Club, Simon, The Rape Crisis Centre. We contribute articles to the local newspaper and are frequently on the local radio station. As we speak Irish we are also involved with the Irish speaking community.
I was amazed at the community’s response to the store’s closing in 2006! What was that time like?
Probably the toughest decision we had to make but as our mother said when we told her “It’s time to move on”.
Kennys has the enviable reputation of being the second store in the world to have a website – and embracing new technologies – how is that continuing with social media or anything else?
We are constantly reinventing ourselves. With the seismic change in the culture of book buying, we have to continuously readapt.
How would you describe Kennys to someone across the world?
Once my brother and myself found ourselves sitting on a bench waiting for a train at a worn out railway station in California reminiscent of the Wild West. There we were sitting in the blistering heat booted and suited and we said “You know the Kennys will go anywhere to buy or sell books or art”.
What do you think of this store? And it’s community ties? What sort of community events do your local bookstores do?