Kennys Bookshop is celebrating 80 years in business this year. Maureen and Des Kenny first opened the shop on 29 November 1940 in Galway, having both just graduated from University College Galway with no jobs. They got a bank loan of £100 and began with a small, one-room shop selling schoolbooks and books given to them by their friends. They expanded the business by selling arts and crafts and antiques, creating book catalogues, and travelling overseas to buy and sell. They had six children and five went into the business full-time. They also opened the first commercial art gallery in the west of Ireland which still sells original works of Irish art. In 1974 they started a book bindery which continues to produce high quality, hand-crafted leather bindings, one of the few traditional book binderies left in Ireland. In the 1980s, Kennys grew an overseas market, and in 1994 it became the first business in Ireland, and the second bookshop globally, to go online. Today they ship books to over 160 countries.
One positive thing to come from the Covid-19 crisis, it is that people are reading more books. Kennys Bookshop has met the challenge of bookselling during the pandemic. They hosted several author events online, including an interview with Doireann ní Ghríofa about here award winning book, A Ghost in the Throat, and a conversation with acclaimed novelist Sebastian Barry. They have found that the demand for books has hugely increased while customers are keen to support Irish and independent businesses.
With so many people ordering books online, Kennys staff have been working hard to fulfil orders and are grateful that An Post has provided an excellent service throughout the pandemic. Social media has acquired a new importance with increased conversations, messages and interactions on the bookshop’s social media. With customers unable to browse in the shop, social media has provided an alternative way to keep in touch with the world of books. Like other Irish bookshops, Kennys is finding ways to compete with Amazon by providing a service more attuned to their customers’ preferences.
And Kennys is still growing strong. The shock of Covid-19 was offset by the support from people in Ireland who made the effort to shop with them. Like other independent businesses in Ireland, support from local people was crucial to survival. This has been a difficult year but after eighty years in business, the current generation of Kennys is looking forward to a post-Covid future.