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Alexandria’s Irish Walk closes after 50 years

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More audible than the sound of “The Rattlin’ Bog” over the speakers of Old Town Alexandria’s Irish Walk was the chorus of different customers telling owner Patty Theobald some version of, “I can’t believe you’re closing.”  

After 50 years in business, the little piece of the Emerald Isle is closing its doors July 31. The shop’s front window is papered with fliers advertising closing sales. Inside are shelves of picked-over green wares: wool sweaters and rugby shirts, Connemara marble rosaries and St. Patrick’s Day decorations, statuettes of dogs wearing jaunty green top hats. 

The economic impact of the pandemic, the summer closings of the Alexandria Metro stations due to maintenance, the last government shutdown and the overall trend toward online shopping have taken an insurmountable financial toll on the store over the past few years, said Theobald. “It was a head decision, but my heart is hurting,” she said. 

The Irish Walk was opened 50 years ago by Peter and Evelyn Butler, parishioners of Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria. “It was opened by my grandparents when they immigrated here. It was more my grandma’s project,” said their granddaughter Abby Butler-Cefalo, a college student at George Mason University in Fairfax who works at the shop. “I never got to meet my grandma — she passed away before I could — so it was really cool that I got to work here for the past four years and kind of connect with that origin.”

Pat and Bernadette Troy, parishioners of the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria, took over the store in 1974. Theobald worked weekends at the store before buying it from the Troys in 2008. “I moved to the area in 2000 and soon after my mom came to visit me. She’s never met an Irish store she hasn’t gone into, so we came in here,” said Theobald. “She and Bernadette just started talking and (my mom) said, ‘You should hire my daughter.’ ”

Over the years, Theobald has loved helping the customers choose wedding bands, pick out gifts for relatives and hear stories of the old country. The job has allowed her and her mother to travel several times to the Irish goods convention in Dublin to buy products for the shop. Some best sellers include Claddagh rings, kids clothing, Christmas ornaments and St. Bridget’s crosses, but Theobald refuses to pick a favorite. “I like it all, because I get to go to Ireland and pick it,” she said. “It’s like choosing a favorite child. A, you’re not supposed to and B, even if you did, you’re not supposed to say.”

Some of her favorite memories include the days Alexandria would hold its St. Patrick’s Day parade in March or the Irish festival in August. “Those are the days when everyone comes out and sees you,” she said. “Even if they’re not buying anything, they come and say hi and wish you well and show their green finery. Or they show me their dogs through the window with all their green finery.”

Customer Mauricio Tamargo, a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Burke, stopped by the shop the week before it closed to buy jewelry for his Irish wife. “Sometimes when I go elsewhere and I get something, it’s a 50-50 chance I mess up. But usually when I go here, she likes everything,” he said. “I’m Cuban American, but I’m an Irish wannabe. It is tragic that they are closing this store.” 

Theobald said she’ll most miss interacting with customers. “The people are just incredible. When I first announced (I was closing), so many people just came and wished us well, came to Christmas shop early to help us out. I’ve gotten phone calls, I’ve gotten emails,” she said. “I thank all my customers, everyone who stopped in over the years. We’re going to miss them all. We’ve had a great time.” 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020

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