By Justin Williams
Hampton Union, March 16, 2015
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Joan O'Donnell, who has been behind the counter at O'Donnell Imports at 862 Lafatyette Road in Hampton for the past 39 years, will retire at the end of March and the retail store will close, but the internet business will continue at www.odonnellsimports.com. The well known Irish gift shop is having a huge retirement sale with up to 50% off the retail price. [Rich Beauchesne photo]
HAMPTON - Upon walking into O’Donnell’s Imports, you will be able to immediately see the nearly 39 years of history and culture the Irish imports shop has acquired. From blankets, Hummel figurines, sweaters and more, O’Donnell’s Imports carries all things Irish. Unfortunately, 39 years will be the final age of the shop, as it will be closing at the end of March.
Joan O’Donnell, who will be 85 this year, started and has owned the shop since its genesis. Now, she is retiring from the shop business, but not without one final special sale. Everything must go in the shop’s going out of business sale, and Joan O’Donnell is still there every day to make sure people find exactly what they want.
“It’s time to go … I’ll be 85 this year and I can’t really … stand the way I used to,” O’Donnell said. “(I’m) thrilled to get up, thrilled to be here, and couldn’t wait to open the shop, but … physically I can’t do it.
“But we’ve had a long run. I’m satisfied. I loved it.”
O’Donnell started the shop all those years ago because of the death of her husband. Having nothing to do and needing something to occupy her time, she started O’Donnell Imports. Having no experience in retail, O’Donnell decided to make the business model simple: customer based.
“We didn’t have any set ideas, because I had no experience, my daughter had no experience, we had no experience in retailing,” O’Donnell said. “So we're kind of a customer driven store.”
The store’s biggest selling item was actually a customer’s idea. According to O’Donnell, a customer came in and asked for a baby blanket with a name across it. O’Donnell obliged, and started making more baby blankets, which would eventually lead to the shop making about 1000 blankets a year.
“A customer saw (the baby blanket), bought it, and she happened to be in human relations at a big Fortune 500 company,” O’Donnell said. “So when she flew for a meeting down there in Texas … she brought a sample of the baby blanket with her.”
When the company saw the blanket, they liked it so much that they decided to give one as a gift to every employee that has a new baby. And because the company has offices all over the world, the blankets have been too many countries.
The blankets became so popular in the company that employees started looking forward to receiving them when they had a baby.
“One of the women once wrote us a note, who got the blanket. She said, ‘I saw this beautiful beautiful floral arrangement coming up to my door after I had my baby, and I said to my mother, ‘oh mom, please don’t let this be the gift from the company, I want that blanket,’ and that was so flattering,” O’Donnell said.
There are items in the shop that are not based on customer ideas, however. At one point O’Donnell would go to Ireland once or twice a year to collect memorabilia to sell at the shop. The most common items were clothing and jewelry.
While O’Donnell plans to close the shop at the end of the month, she will not stop completely working. She wants to continue the business that made her shop known around the world, and that made so many people happy: the baby blankets.
O’Donnell plans to continue to take orders for the blankets over Facebook, as they have become a tradition for people to give. Taking orders over Facebook may not be as big as owning a whole shop, but it is exactly what O’Donnell is looking for.
“It’ll be fun working a little bit, but not every day, not standing every day, that’s hard,” O’Donnell said.