An Emerald Aisle
“Well it’s a nice, soft night, so I think I’ll go and join me comrades and talk a little treason. G’night, Sean.”
If you are of Irish descent, or pretending to be during the annual March shenanigans, you probably recognize that quote from The Quiet Man. The classic film, which squares off John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, is routinely ranked as America’s favorite Irish movie. There are Irish movies? Oh, yes. And Irish shops. America is home to thousands of Celtic stores that celebrate the heritage of Irish and Scottish families.
Ask Mary Schuehler why there aren’t German shops, or English shops, or Swedish shops. Why do the Irish get to have all the merchandise?
Mary’s round face, framed with auburn hair that announces her ancestry, splits into a smile.
“I don’t know. Maybe because we are just happy, gregarious people,” she says.
Mary’s Collectibles is one of those shops that celebrates ties with the Emerald Isle. Located on the second floor of Horseheads Mill Street Market, Mary presides over her inventory of sweaters, hats, jewelry, and home décor, all created to showcase the joy of being Irish.
But back to John Wayne wooing a spirited and reluctant Maureen O’Hara. Throughout the movie, Wayne wears a cap that’s as Irish as a shamrock. People come into Mary’s store looking for a hat like that, and she can go one better—the official The Quiet Man movie hat. Check out the tag.
Clothing to ward off the chill as you wander the heather seems to be the most popular items for shoppers. Mary has an impressive collection of sweaters, shawls, and capes. They are the genuine article, made in Ireland from soft Merino wool. She only buys from vendors in Ireland and Scotland, making the trek across the pond to select items from some of the 500 vendors on hand.
“I try to feature one new type of sweater each year, depending on the new patterns. The Aran pattern is the most known for the sweaters. I also have products from Baber, the best known Scottish maker of hats and sweaters,” Mary says, while handing over a scarf that manages to be baby soft and heavy-duty cold protection simultaneously. The colors lean heavily towards blue, gray, brown, and a dozen shades of green, of course. In that sea of earth tones, the shamrock scarf in every hue of the rainbow stands out like a Guinness at a tea party.
Ah, the Guinness. Ireland’s favorite brew is strongly represented in glassware and those striped rugby shirts that the young folks favor. At the other end of the age spectrum, the official “Grandfather” linen shirts are available in stone and jade. (Picture a nineteenth century nightshirt, make it about a third shorter, and you’ve got the “Grandfather.”)
Mary had always worked in customer-service jobs. She was a bank teller and a cashier in a mall store. Come 2011, she took a leap of faith and rented space in Horseheads Mill Street Market.
“It took me a while to figure out what would sell,” she admits. She started with ceramic pottery and a couple of other items, but sales were disappointing. In 2014 she landed on the idea of exclusively selling Irish and Scottish items. Her study of buying patterns continued, and Mary began to narrow her focus even more.
“Signs don’t seem to be very popular anymore,” she says, so those items are being phased out. “With jewelry, I’ve learned to have a wide price range. There are high-quality things for life’s special occasions, but there are also everyday pieces that won’t break the bank.”
There is even a section for that most special of special days—a wedding. When the bride and groom both hail from the Auld Sod, there is a pewter stand that holds their champagne flutes connected by a Claddagh. Known the world over, the ultimate symbol of Ireland has three components; hands that represent friendship, a heart to stand for love, and a crown, which speaks of loyalty. “People who strongly identify with being Irish are drawn to this section of the shop,” Mary says as she spins a sparkling display case.
Mary even carries wool socks that boast of the wearer’s devotion to Syracuse University. Christmas is on display all year with ornaments and Santas bedecked in green. “We see a lot of tourists coming to the Finger Lakes and they won’t be back before Christmas, so I need to have the ornaments year round,” she says.
There’s really only one topic that can cast a cloud over Mary’s cheerful countenance. She has special interest in that conundrum known as Brexit, the planned departure of Great Britain from the European Union. As anyone who follows world news is aware, the whole issue has ended up in a confusing heap of unanswered questions. Mary has some of those.
“What’s going to happen with Northern Ireland and Scotland? Will there be tariffs and new taxes on things? Will delivery be slowed? It could have a big impact on my business.” But a moment later, she is pointing out the wool ties featuring some of the family tartans of Ireland, and admitting with a laugh that she is in a “mixed marriage.”
“He’s German. And an accountant. And he hates it when I call all this my hobby. But I just enjoy it too much to think of it as a job.”
Obviously, that is the luck of the Irish.
Find Mary’s Collectibles on Facebook, call her at (607) 738-5272, or better yet, head to Horseheads Mill Street Market at 117 West Mill Street, Horseheads, and climb the stairs to a little slice of the Emerald Isle.