Small Business Survivor
Neville Gardner started Donegal Square in 1985. In small business years, 34 years is a lifetime! We are currently undergoing our first major renovation since we moved to 534 Main Street in 1996. Normally Donegal Square is only closed for the day for a major holiday (or a major snowstorm). Being closed for more than five weeks is downright strange! People have expressed concern that we are closing permanently (absolutely not the case) or that Neville is retiring (we can’t even imagine that). So we are here to say that Donegal Square is here to stay!
“You’re Not Closing, Are You?”
We have had many passers-by looking in our windows, shielding their eyes from the sun, to see what is happening during renovations. So many stopped to ask (with a bit of panic) if we were closing that we finally made HUGE signs for the window that said “re-opening by August 1st”. It was heartening to see and hear people’s reactions and relief; “I love this store”, “I’ve been shopping here for 20 years”, “My mom loves her sweater from here”, “We got our wedding bands here”, “We always visit Donegal Square when we come to Bethlehem”.
Over the course of 34 years, we have welcomed thousands of people through our doors. Many longtime customers have become friends and feel like part of the extended Donegal Square family. We have shared happy news of marriages, babies, grandchildren, retirement, as well as sad news of illness and loss of loved ones. It is an honor to be a part of our customer’s lives, and we look forward to sharing much more in the years to come!
Small Business Challenges
We greatly value the relationships we have with our friends and customers. In addition to these relationships, part of our customers’ dismay stemmed from the fact that it would mean another small business closing. In the age of Amazon and express shipping, small businesses face harsh competition and extreme pressure. It can be difficult to compete on price against the online behemoths, but small businesses offer exceptional customer service, an opportunity to feel and try on items, and an “experience”. Many people are making the conscious decision to “shop small” and support downtown businesses. We, and our fellow Main Street small businesses, so appreciate that!
Neville is the chairman of the Downtown Bethlehem Association, whose mission is to promote downtown Bethlehem as a great place to shop, stay, dine and so much more. It is his belief that when visitors “get downtown”, everyone wins. It is not just about the success of Donegal Square and McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub and Whiskey Bar, but about historic downtown Bethlehem. Main Street has evolved over the years with new restaurants and shops, but it still retains its historic charm plus a full schedule of festivals and events. Stay up to date at the DBA’s website www.getdowntownbethlehem.com.
It isn’t only local businesses who are supported by shopping small. Donegal Square purchases most of our merchandise from small businesses and family-owned businesses in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These companies, sometimes in the hands of the second or third generation of the family, continue to produce their unique goods in the traditional manner, whether it is knitwear, leather goods, or pottery.
In order to grow and thrive, businesses must continually adapt to changing market conditions and technology. What worked 34 years ago doesn’t necessarily work now, and “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not a strategy for success. So Donegal Square and McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub have changed with the times; not really taking anything away, but adding to the customer experience.
Donegal Square is looking to embrace new technology with the use of video in our marketing and for educational purposes. We would also love to host more in-store events, especially since we will have a beautiful space in which to welcome our guests! We look forward to growing and sharing that experience with our customers for many years to come.