A toddler skips and jumps up towards the counter top, coins clasped in one hand, and asks Christy Egan if she has enough for a Kinder Egg.
“A Kinder Egg?” says Egan, from behind the counter. “No!”
“Oh,” says the kid, and looks away awkwardly.
“But with that,” says Egan, smiling, “you can get one of these.” He points to a box of Kinder Maxis underneath the glass counter, among the blue and purple and gold-foiled chocolate bars.
And as she rips open the box of Kinder Maxis, the kid heads through a side-door of the shop, and back to the flats above.
Christy Egan has run Christy’s Hospital Stop Shop, a block from the entrance to St James Hospital, since 1984.
He is slight with a white moustache, and he sips from an endless mug of tea as another customer in shorts comes in from the heat of a Friday afternoon in June.
Now don’t forget, Egan tells the customer, the cost a packet of 20 John Player Blue cigarettes is to go up by 20 cents come Monday.
A discussion ensues about what will work out cheapest once next week’s price hike takes effect; a 28 pack, a rolling tobacco tub, or what?
Well, Egan points out, the 28 pack isn’t going up in price and works out at only 48 cents a cigarette while the 20 pack will cost you 52.5 cents per cigarette.
It’s a no-brainer, really.
The customer agrees and, fags in hand, exits the route of the toddler. “See y’Christy love,” she calls out.
The shop, with its tightly packed shelves of detergents and cereal boxes, is as much a thoroughfare for the passing locals as a destination.
Beyond the cold fridge stuffed with litres of milk, blocks of butter, and packets of bacon, an entranceway leads to the courtyard of the flats that, Egan reckons, house well over a hundred people.
Everyday, between 7:30am and 7:30pm, they come.
The mothers with offspring at-heel, and pensioners collecting their loaves. School kids hell-bent on frozen lollies. The loose change, the passing wisecrack, and the rattle of bon-bons.
Egan took over the shop after a stint in St James Hospital following a motorcycle accident. He had been on the lookout for a shop for a while and the couple who ran it before wanted to retire.
It might now be called Christy’s Hospital Stop Shop, but few from the nearby hospital seem to drop in.
Ninety percent of the business comes from up above, he says, and while the residents respect him, he’ll return in kind and offer affordability. “The way I look at it, we’re all in this world together,” says Egan. “I’m not a greedy person at all.”
A package of Tayto comes in at 80 cents while the chocolate bars all seem to cost less than €1. It’s cheaper than the nearby Spar and Egan hasn’t seen soaring profits over the years. But he relies on the regulars so why send them elsewhere?
Into Christy’s, from the entrance to the flats, comes Angela Finnegan in flip flops and sunnies. She’s lived upstairs since shortly before Egan took up residence she says, before Egan reminds her about the imminent price hike of John Player cigarettes.
Christy must get some business from those over at the hospital, she says.
Egan offers a swift rebuttal. “I don’t get many,” he says. “There used to be a lot. Now, three or four maybe.”
In any case, the locals rely on Egan.
“We’d be lost without him,” says Finnegan. “If you want him to get something for you, he’ll get it. I mean, he’ll hold my bread for me everyday, what more could you want?”
Five minutes or so pass before an elderly gent puts his head around the corner, offers a greeting, and asks Egan to fill up his plastic bag with five oranges which he’ll collect upon his return, whenever that may be.
Egan selects five oranges from the tilted cardboard boxes of fruit and veg outside, returns to his cup of tea, and rolls a cigarette.
Since 1984, he’s had robberies, bust-ups, and chancers. It’s rarely been smooth but, he says, his early army training taught him perseverance.
“Things go wrong in your life and everything else, don’t get bogged down with the one thing. You’ve got to learn to improvise,” says Egan. “Shit happens everyday of the week, you’ve to deal with it, so deal with it.”
“The sergeant said to me once, whenever I went to complain or whatever it was, he says ‘EGAN! Is my shirt red??,” says Egan, shuffling to and fro behind the counter. “‘Is my shirt red??’ I says ‘No, Sergeant, no!’…’Well then my heart doesn’t bleed for ye!’ he says.”
Egan hauls over a thick yellow ring binder where he keeps the invoices and notes of those who owe him for this and that.
After leaving the armed forces he set up shop adjacent to “the dairy” next door which, after 38 years in business, closed a few years back.
Apart from the rusted shutters of the two neighbouring premises, Christy’s is what remains of the short row of local amenities.
Another toddler waddles in with her parent. And another Kinder Egg is requested. This one can afford it, her mam’s with her after all. Egan asks if she’d like him to take the rubbish.
She hands over the tin foil, giggling at how the chocolate has glooped and melted onto the wrapper, and disappears in the direction of the flats. Egan grins and dutifully drops the rubbish in the bin.
It’s hard to know who some of the items on sale are for. Few seem to purchase the open boxes of chalk sticks or the potato sacks outside. Egan says he set up the fruit and veg because it was needed after the nearby dairy shop closed down.
When the shop sign was vandalised and torn down some years back, he got a new one at the request of the council. When the window to the shop was smashed of a recent winter, it had to be repaired.
Despite waking up at 6am each morning and sometimes, like the other day when a large order of minerals came in, not returning back home to Ballyfermot until 10pm, Egan keeps on keeping on.
Overall, he says, there have been more bad times than good. But, it hasn’t been all bad, the daily exchanges with the regulars keep him going.
He’s weathered the recession and trade has held steady since. “Before it went wrong [in 2008], you could notice it the year before,” he says. “The sales weren’t really there and everything else. I was struggling.”
But with the exception of the John Player 20 pack increase, he rarely puts up his prices, it seems.
Each customer spreads their items out on the counter top for Egan to tot up the price in his head. If he knows you and you haven’t enough, pay for it at a later date.
Just don’t milk it, his generosity has its limits.
Last week, he says, a customer he’d met maybe once came in and asked for phone credit and fags and asked would he let her pay later.
“Look, if you’re stuck for a bit of food I’ll help you out, but not for cigarettes and not mobile credit,” he recalls saying. “So off she goes. She came into me again on Wednesday and asked if she could have a word with me. She was going on her holidays and was a bit stuck for money… Could I lend her €400?! she says.”
Egan laughs. The elderly resident returns for his oranges.
Lost Without Him
Three lads appear from the entrance to the flats, from the late afternoon heat. They each take an orange ice pop, and Egan cuts through the plastic with a knife and the orange goo spills onto a stack of newspapers.
All three run out into the sunshine.
Despite working most years alone, Egan has recruited some help of late.
Jack Murray has lived upstairs in the flats since he was two years old. These days he lends a hand in the shop when Egan needs to check dates or sweep up in the evening.
Since December, he’s been learning the trade. Knowing the heads already, he says, has come in handy.
“One euro there, thanks,” says Murray, to a customer. “Anyone around here would know him [Egan], it probably would be a lot cheaper than other shops because he’s just trying to make his own bit of money, not because the other shops are selling it at this price you know?”
It’s nearly time to close up for the day. Egan sweeps up plastic wrappers and dropped penny sweets. Angela Finnegan stops by to collect her bread from behind the counter. When the couple who ran the dairy retired, all the residents did a whip round for them, she says. She’s no doubt they’ll do the same for Christy.
“All the little kids would be SCREAMIN’ along but he doesn’t lose his patience,” says Finnegan. “My youngest, she’s seven right. I can say to her ‘run up to Christy’s to grab me, say, a jug of milk’, whereas if Christy wasn’t there I wouldn’t send her down the main road.”
Egan offers a half-smile.
“He’s very kind, I have to get that in,” says Finnegan.
“I thought you were going to say ‘He has his moments!’” cuts in Egan, laughing.
“No, no! You’re alright,” she said.
Egan hands over Finnegan’s loaf of bread and says goodbye. But not before he reminds her that, come Monday, a 20 pack of John Player cigarettes is going up by 20 cents.