Friday, 30 July 2010


Our first stop, when we find ourselves in Dublin, is the first floor café in Avoca, where the atmosphere is informal, the surroundings fun and the food consistently excellent.
Afterwards, we wander round the eclectic and ever-changing range of stock - food, fashion, homeware and books - whose individuality sets the stores apart. Having been in retail myself for seventeen years through the 80s and 90s, I have never lost my interest in merchandising, and Avoca tends to get it right.

The origins of the retail operation lie in an eighteenth-century farmer's cooperative in the Wicklow village of Avoca - a woolen mill, trading as Avoca Handweavers and thriving until well into the last century, the looms finally falling silent in the 1960s with the wider demise of handweaving. The mill was put up for sale and was acquired in 1974, on impulse, by the Dublin lawyer charged with selling it, one Donald Pratt. Since then, the operation has been reinvented, diversified and hugely expanded (there are eight stores, including one in Maryland), but it values its heritage and still prides itself on it's hand-woven throws.

When Avoca opened in Belfast in 2007, I sent a copy of The Blue Cabin to the present owner, Simon Pratt, and he gave it an enthusiastic and generous reception, since when the Belfast store has been firmly behind The Blue Cabin, and later Still On The Sound. I had one of my most productive signing events there, and both titles are displayed in the books area and elsewhere. I get a kick out of every visit.
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