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'Everyone can be a little Irish'

As St. Patrick's Day approached, Irish and non-Irish alike kept the House of Claddagh Irish Imports busy.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002

SPRING HILL -- At House of Claddagh Irish Imports, preparation for St. Patrick's Day lasts all year.

When store owner Ellen Timothy moved into the space at Commercial Way and Northcliffe Boulevard 17 years ago, her weekly customer traffic was about 50 people, she said. During the St. Patrick's Day rush last week, she had about that many each day.

During March, many of her customers greet Timothy with wishes for a happy holiday.

"This is the time of year when everyone can be a little Irish," said Timothy. "It's a wonderful holiday."

When Timothy's husband, John, retired from the New York City Police Department 19 years ago, the Staten Island native found herself away from her job as a registered nurse and in the wilds of Spring Hill.

After two years of retirement, Timothy says, she was ready for something different.

With no formal training in sales or merchandising, Timothy took a course at Pasco-Hernando Community College in marketing, even as she was opening the shop.

"This has been a lot of fun," said Timothy, who called on her own Irish descent for inspiration. "I've met a lot of very nice people."

Although her inventory has expanded to include a bit of generalized Celtic merchandise, Timothy's main focus is still Irish imports. Items from the Emerald Isle include sterling silver jewelry, perfumes, figurines and music by Irish artists. Timothy says she has something for everyone.

"It's not all shamrocks and leprechauns here," she said with a laugh. "Although we have that, too."

Named for the traditional Irish ring symbolizing love, friendship and loyalty, the store draws customers with a range of interests and budgets.

"I have made a real effort to keep my prices where they should be," Timothy said. "A lot of people hesitate to come in here, but they are pleasantly surprised when they do."

Since the first of the year, Timothy's new Web site has drawn interest from customers both local and out of driving range.

"It's been surprising," she said. "But it's still no substitute for coming in to have a look around."

An avid collector, Mayna Jamison came from Hudson last week to pick up a pair of Irish porcelain candlesticks. A special order from the Belleek company in Northern Ireland, the pieces were a gift from her husband for their silver wedding anniversary.

"They are just beautifully crafted," said Jamison. "The quality is extremely fine."

Several years ago, Jamison visited the Belleek factory in Northern Ireland, where pieces are handcrafted and painted.

"I wanted to see how they were made," said Jamison, who began collecting more than 13 years ago. "To see all the ladies sitting there painting was simply quite amazing."

Because St. Patrick's Day falls on a Sunday this year, Timothy says the store will be closed on the holiday for the first time in several years.

"I'll be at home for St. Patrick's Day making corned beef and cabbage," she said. "That's what it's all about."

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