Donegal Square: A Destination for all Things Celtic
Specializing in items from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, Donegal Square has been on Main Street, Bethlehem for 25 years.
Location: 534 Main St.
Owner: Neville Gardner
Contact info: 610-866-3244/610-861-7631
What's special/unique about your business?
“We’re a destination for all things Celtic. I suppose there are a few hundred stores across the country like this, but not many of them focus on all of the British Isles. We also have the restaurant, the banquet space. We do a lot of events. We have a lot of cultural activities. It’s not just about selling stuff. It’s about conveying the flavor, the tastes and the smells. We try to be inspired by the history and the traditions and the culture … We try to run the business in the same vein that my family was when I was growing up. We’ll go out of our way to make our customers happy.”
What's your most popular product/service?
Jewelry, particularly Tara’s Diary charm bracelets, and engagement and wedding rings. Donegal Square can also provide supplies for a Celtic-themed wedding, including kilt rentals.
How have you weathered the recession?
“It’s been tough. I think if we would have been asleep at the wheel we would have been gone. For about two or three years, we were in a freefall. We have a lot of experience. We have 35,000 customers. We’ve been in business for 25 years.” Gardner said the store has tweaked its inventory, with authentic Celtic items that are less expensive, for example carrying more silver than gold jewelry, or switching to hand-loomed sweaters instead of hand-knitted ones.
What's your favorite story/anecdote about your business?
More than 15 years ago, a prospective customer called from Chicago asking to find a Christmas gift for someone who knew everything about Ireland and had everything as well. At the time, the store had stocked peat briquettes, which are commonly used in Irish fireplaces as fuel. A couple of boxes of the briquettes were put in a basket, wrapped in green and shipped express to the recipient. A couple of weeks after Christmas, the store got an angry telephone call: “That has to be the worst chocolate we’ve ever had. It tastes like dirt,” the caller said. “It is dirt,” Gardner replied.
Tell us about your background.
Gardner grew up in Lambeg, a village 10 miles outside of Belfast, Northern Ireland. His mother was Catholic, his father Protestant. In his first career, he was a civil engineer who once worked for the Belfast Water Council and helped to redesign central sewer lines in the city. But it was field hockey that brought him to Bethlehem. Gardner was a member of the under-21 Irish national field hockey team. At one tournament in Toronto, Gardner met a young woman who was playing for an amateur women’s team from the Lehigh Valley. He moved here and was soon married to Linda Shay.