Fosters Coffee Shop

The ‘in’ place on our way home from the Abbey Grammar School in the early 60’s was the Coffee Shop of Fosters, Newry’s only Department Store. 

I was in total awe of this establishment with its myriad ‘departments’ all within one huge building:  I could only guess at the sheer luxury and size of its city counterparts.


Our home in The Meadow had recently been fitted – at considerable cost, I was made aware – with new oilcloth in the main downstairs rooms (the back hall continued to have a bare concrete finish as long as I lived there). 


Fosters by way of contrast had plush, expensive carpets throughout, into which I was often fearful of sinking without trace. The grand, curving staircase too was thickly carpeted and it led to even more luxurious treasures above.  


This was the route to the much-vaunted ‘Coffee Shop’. 


I knew I didn’t belong and would enter hurriedly and proceed with head down until I reached my destination, the Coffee Shop above. All the time I was fearful of being challenged by one of the important-looking Assistants who were sharply dressed in smart uniforms and who each exuded an indefinable air of authority. 


‘Hey, you, ragamuffin! You can’t come in HERE dressed like THAT!’


I waited. But it never did happen. 


My constant companion – who must remain anonymous, for reasons soon to become manifest – was completely the opposite. 


From a similar working-class background as my own (though his father was a joiner while mine was a mere labourer – the ‘mere’ being his word) he nevertheless aspired to greater things and behaved continually as though Fosters was somehow below his required minimum standard – if not indeed, beneath his dignity.


‘I cannot believe the STATE of this store!’ he would sniff. 


‘It’s so difficult to find good hired help these days!’


I could never be sure if he was being serious or just taking a hand out of us all.


…. more to follow…

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