Pearse McConville was the man who started the trend of late night shopping in rural South Armagh.
Pearse was the second youngest of five children, born to Dermot and Annie McConville, of North Street, in Crossmaglen.
Pearse grew up in the family home adjacent to the long-standing family business, MJ McConville Chemist. As a boy, he attended the local St. Patrick’s Primary School.
Weekends and summer holidays were spent on his aunt and uncle’s farm, Hanratty’s in Teer. It is here he loved the outdoor farming life.
After primary school, he went on to study at St. Patrick’s College in Armagh where he was a boarder. Home from St. Patrick’s, he used to ride his bicycle across the border to Gartland’s Antiques in Broomfield where he worked, and so began his love of all things old. Here he learned about antiques and attended many auctions all over Ireland.
He also played football for Crossmaglen Rangers and received a minor championship medal in 1977 but the lure of making a few pounds in the evenings – buying and selling – outweighed the football.
At the age of 17, having finished school and saved up his money, Pearse went to Birmingham with his brother-in-law, where he bought his first motor, a Ford Escort van. He filled his van from his uncle’s yard full of old antique tools and equipment before taking them back home, where he wheeled and dealt and sold them all for a tidy profit. The buying and selling bug had now set in and was made easier by the fact he now had his own transport.
This was the start of his entrepreneurial journey, which stayed with him all through the years. He loved to buy and sell all things old, keeping some aside for his future home.
Pearse, now 18, decided to get a trade and ended up working in W&S Magowan Printers and Wholesalers where he did a three year apprenticeship to become a compositor. He attended Belfast Tech one day per week as part of his apprenticeship. In his last year he was awarded Student of the Year in his field. He then went into full time employment at Magowans, and it was here he met his future wife, Roisin.
Although he loved the printing game, Pearse always wanted his own business and thought long and hard about what he would open. At that time, people were living in the thick of the Troubles and times were challenging.
Crossmaglen was like a ghost town after 6pm in the evening. Households only had one car and the husbands would have it away to work all day; then in the evening time, when transport was available, locals used to cross the border to a late shop to get essentials.
Taking this all on board Pearse built a small shop, 600 st ft., on part of the family yard. He named it ‘8 Till Late’ and opened it in July 1983, from 8am to 11pm.
He sold newspapers, tobacco, confectionery, greeting cards, stationery, toys and essential groceries. There was light and life in Crossmaglen after 6pm. The young people loved him and used to gather in the little shop for somewhere to go.
Pearse had a great work ethic, a great personality and a fantastic retail brain. He also operated a bread run for M&B Bakeries, alongside running the shop.
He married Roisin on August 7, 1985 where she joined him in running the business. The couple are blessed with three children; Micéal, Shireen, and Aimee.
As for the shop, it went from strength to strength, so Pearse extended and took on the SPAR franchise in 1990. Although the sign above the door changed to Spar supermarket, it was always known as Pearse’s.
Pearse was never happy unless he was expanding so he built on the second extension. By now you could get anything from a needle to an anchor in the store. As a visitor to his wake remarked, ‘If he didn’t have what you wanted today, he sure would have had it the next day.’
In 2006, Spar nominated the shop for an award ceremony in London called ‘The Grocer Awards’, which took in stores from right across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Mystery shoppers came to check out the shop which resulted in the nomination. Pearse and Roisin went to London to attend the awards ceremony where the shop scooped two awards on the night. Attendees heard about how deceiving the front entrance was, to the length of the store inside; they were astonished at the uniqueness of the store and of all that was on sale; equally amazed at the fact there there was no EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) system in operation for the range of products.
In 2008, the shop was shortlisted again for the neighbourhood retailer awards in Belfast. Here it won another award for all the hard work and dedication that was devoted to it by Pearse and Roisin and their staff.
During all of this time, Pearse was very active in the community. He was one of the founder members of Crossmaglen Chamber of Commerce and of Crossmaglen Community Association. He worked tirelessly with his colleagues to get a community bus for the aged, and to get funding for lights and decorations to brighten up the town for Christmas. He loved his community and was a proud Crossmaglen Rangers and Armagh supporter.
Even though Pearse had Spar over the door, he never turned away a rep from any company who called with a folder under their arm. They were taken into the office, the tea was made and he would get the best deal out of them for whatever they were selling.
Pearse was well known throughout the whole business community and was held in high esteem with his customers and suppliers. He was truly gifted in his knowledge of retail. After adding on his third extension to the shop; it now stood at 5,500 square feet and helped employ 25 staff in the area, between part-time and full-time. Some achievement from the 600 sq ft. that he had started with, not to mention a new storage shed at the rear of the building which allowed him to buy in bulk so he could give more value to his customers.
Pearse, having achieved all of this, took early retirement in June 2011 after 28 years in retail. He leased the shop to Musgrave; it’s now branded as a Centra, but it still is, and always will be, known as Pearse’s.
Pearse’s Months Mind takes place on Saturday, August 12 at 6:30pm in St. Patrick’s Church, Crossmaglen.