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Shoe salesman Hugh steps down 12.07.07

When you've been a shoe salesman all your life, you're probably the life and 'sole' of the party.
And Buncrana man Hugh Henderson is just that. As he prepares to retire after 42 years in the trade, he could still be found this week laughing and joking with customers in his trademark way.
But behind the smiles were the tears, as the 62-year old reflected on his four decades on the Main Street.
"To be honest with you, I'm trying not to think about it too much because it's going to be hard closing the door for the last time. I've been 42 years here in the shop and 49 years in total working on the Main Street," he said. He chuckles when he tells how he left school at the tender age of 13 to become a telegram boy, only to be hauled back to the desk by the Guards. "I was too young to quit school," he laughs. He stuck it out for another few months but left again before he was 14 to work in McGinley's newsagents.
Hugh Henderson retires after 42 years. From there he went to another newsagents in the town, McMenamin's, where he worked until 1964. However, it was one day, when Hugh's beloved mother Mary Ellen told him that a local lad was not now following through on a plan to move back from England to open a shoe shop, that he saw an opening for himself. With 50 of his own savings and 300 loaned to him by his mother, 'Hugh Henderson's', as the shop would thereafter be known, came into being. He fondly remembers that the first person to buy a pair of men's shoes was the late Paddy Barber while the first lady's pair were sold to well known local singer, Maisie Grant, now also sadly deceased. In the following 42 years, Hugh, who is married to Rosaleen with five children, would see the ups and downs of
business in a small rural town. He misses the simplicity of the old days when people had little to give but their loyalty.
"The 60s and 70s were simple in many ways. People didn't have money. Men would sign on the dole on a Thursday and come into me with a stick cut to the size of their child's foot and say 'I want a pair of shoes that size'," he remembers.
In those days too, you could always go 'up to Hugh's', get a couple of pair of shoes to take home and try on. In those cash-strapped days of recession, Hugh would let the townspeople 'pay in' for their shoes over a period of time. "You got enough local trade to do you. People knew that a family-run business would give you a good service," he explained, adding that each of his five children had worked, at one stage or another, in the shop.
He boasts that he has "never had a sick day off in (his) life" and loved every minute of his time in the shoe shop chatting every day to the local characters and having 'the craic'.
This week he is busy with his retirement sale and things are hectic in the shop. With his wife at his side, the affable shopkeeper, is looking forward to taking life easy and celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary next year. A keen golfer, he also plans to spend some of his new-found spare time on the local fairways trying to reduce his 15 handicap. "I played off 10 when I started out first because I got really hooked on the game and played all the time." He is now preparing to lease the shop to Christy Doherty, who also runs a shoe shop in Carndonagh.
"The people of Buncrana meant a wile lot to me. I will miss everybody," he says, choking back tears. Meanwhile, his retirement at his home at Cockhill Road will be simple and will include a fair share of gardening. "A bit of luck and a bit of health is all you need," he said.
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