When it comes to toys, Mai Roche is a child’s best friend and her shop in Church St, Abbeyfeale is children’s toy heaven.
Even still, after 60 years in the business, Mai continues to love her job and continues to love toys.
It has, she admits, a special favor for tractors. “I sell tractors here all the time. I love them, ”she said, before appearing in a new TV documentary The Toy Shop, which hits RTÉ this Wednesday.
Big tractors, she added, with some satisfaction, are her biggest seller and she is thrilled that now the girls are stepping into action with pink tractors. She also noted, with great pleasure, that business is more or less a year round affair.
There are always children with birthdays to buy, there are always children with communion money that they are crazy to spend.
Above all, you have to take into account loyal customers and loyal suppliers. “I always deal with the same crowd and have great clients,” she explained.
And, unlike large toy retailers, Mai can offer customers the flexibility to put money aside week after week until a toy is fully paid for.
May’s toy wonderland, however, started out a little differently. In 1959, as a young woman, Mai Dempsey came to Abbeyfeale from Clonard, Co. Meath, to take a job in what was then Dan Ward’s pharmacy.
She was due to return home after three years, but instead she met and fell in love with Michael Roche, a local farmer. They moved into the premises of Church St, which was, Mai recalls, an authorized facility at the time.
Known as Shebeen, it was also a grocery store and sold toys.
Later, the license was sold, and Mai, a mother of six sons and one daughter, decided to specialize in toys. “I opened the toy store a long time ago,” she said with a laugh. It was, she said, to have “an interest”.
This interest has made her happy and satisfied for many years now and she has no plans to retire. “I’m fit and capable, I’m fine. Memory is good all the time, ”she said.
It’s only when she finally closes her eyes that the store will hit the market, she said. Her children, she added, all live locally but have gone their own way.
Mai’s Shop is one of 16 independent toy stores across the country to feature in the documentary The Toy Shop. It is, say the creators of the program, a story about the fundamental and underappreciated role of toys in all of our lives, and the role they play in shaping our lives and making our dreams come true.
It delves into the memories of owners and young customers and captures the joy and excitement that toys bring.
Mai was happy to be a part of the program. “It was something different,” she said, remembering that she was selling a tractor to a customer when the film crew arrived.
The Toy Shop is a production of Atom Films, a company that is no stranger to Abbeyfeale. They did the ‘Abbeyfealegood’ program as well as Older Than Ireland and The Irish Wedding.
The Toy Shop is released on RTÉ One this Wednesday, December 22 at 9:30 p.m.