Our favorite store offered a glimpse of another world

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My local store closes and takes its owner, John Hyland, with it. A newspaper seller for you, a minor god for me. He is one of my last connections to a world that no longer exists, a lost Amazonian surrounded not by the rainforest but by newspapers and magazines.

Its closure hastens my evolution towards one of those who give directions via landmarks that no longer exist. My father was the master of it.

“Turn left where the Metropolis was, walk past Nelson’s Pillar and then, right next to the old tram stop, this is the place!”

He could direct you to anywhere in Dublin using bars, places and even streets that were gone in the 1950s. There was often a wonderful undercurrent of 1916. He would refer to a house as ” the one whose door was damaged by the Tans ”.

Yes, black and tan. Inchicore was for him a living museum.

John Hyland in his shop. Photo: Nick Bradshaw

Of course, it was a world I didn’t want anything to do with. I was watching Top of The Pops and Match of the Day. I was happy going to school at a 1916 theme park, but after school it was George Best, Slade and the clackers. Time travel shows, big at the time, didn’t mean much to me. I felt like I was traveling through time every day.

Next to our bus stop was a store called Hyland’s which one day began to specialize in newspapers and magazines. Ireland was mostly Titbits and Woman’s Own at this point, but suddenly here comes Newsweek, Time, Life, National Geographic, and magazines on cars, photography, history and hobbies. Newspapers also from all over the world.

It was as if a new river of knowledge had started to flow through the neighborhood. I walked in sheepishly looking at the shelves. It was my first time seeing music journals, NME, Melody Maker and Sounds. Its owner looked at me and said, “And if something you want isn’t there, I can order it for you.” It was Jean.

Hyland’s has become a “destination” newsagent. People went out of their way to get their papers there and stock up on more rarefied goodies like the New York Times Book Review. It was the golden age of newspapers, when it took two adults to lift the Sunday Times and three weeks to read it.

John later moved the store to Dun Laoghaire where it became Alex’s. He then sold this about 15 years ago and moved across the road to the tiny premises he lived in until this week.

The legend of the store and John started to grow at this point. It was now open almost 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A visit on Christmas Day was compulsory.

Despite its small size, it seemed to store everything. All newspapers, regional and international, were kept for seven days, Sundays for four weeks. He sold milk, bread, matches, batteries, charcoal, fire lighters and boxes of “wrapped” chocolates. Magazines were stacked and John knew where everything was.

Tom Dunne's daughters Eva (left) and Skye (third from left), with their friends Milena and Fionnuala, on a final shopping trip to John Hyland's boutique.
Tom Dunne’s daughters Eva (left) and Skye (third from left), with their friends Milena and Fionnuala, on a final shopping trip to John Hyland’s boutique.

Other parts of his legend grew as well: that he would give credit if people got stuck and wouldn’t charge at all if they were broke. Late at night, the shop was a beacon for taxi drivers, night workers, and others less fortunate. You would see him there at midnight and then you would see him again at 6 in the morning delivering papers in his car.

We moved to Dun Laoghaire in 2007. The magazines I first saw on his shop shelves in Inchicore, and the music they contained had since become my life. The time that I spent in the band and then on music radio was born from passions which ignited in the pages of NME and Sounds.

The music press had nevertheless evolved. It was now the era of Q, Mojo and Uncut. I searched the small, crowded shelves for the ones I needed until I heard a familiar voice over my shoulder. “And if something you want isn’t there, I can still order it for you.”

When we heard that John was closing, we called. He greeted my daughter with the words “ah, my best customer” and gave her and her friends free candy. It later turned out that she was emptying the coin pot for years to buy stuff. And she thought it was the perfect crime.

Have a good trip, John, and thank you, on behalf of so much, for so much.


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