For the past 40 years in Inishowen, gentlemen attending christenings, weddings, funerals and all the life events in between were more than likely ‘suited and booted’ by David McCandless.
“Born and reared” in Culdaff, the father-of-three first opened ‘The Man’s Shop’ in Carndonagh in the 1970s.
Over the decades, the drapery shop has not only seen changing fashions, but also a transforming town.
It also welcomed changes itself, moving premises to the ‘Diamond’ and being renamed as ‘Mark’s Menswear.’
In the coming weeks, this stalwart of Inishowen will be closing its doors for good, as David is retiring to spend more time with his grandchildren and indulge in his favourite hobbies.
When the ‘Journal’ met him last week, he told how he first entered into the drapery business via Derry’s shirt factories, after being advised to pursue a career other than farming.
“All my connections were farmers,” he said.
“They all told me there were too many people looking to get into that, so to go and make my own way,” he explained.
“My first job was in my uncle’s shirt factory, McCandless’ in Bishop Street, Derry. I worked in there for about ten years, before I decided to open my own drapery shop in Carndonagh.
“It was easy for me to choose Carn, as it was the nearest town to where I lived and was always very busy.”
The shop was opened in 1973. In 1976, it moved to the Diamond, where it has stood since.
The shop was renamed in honour of David’s son ‘Mark,’ although it is still also known by many as ‘The Man’s Shop,’
David is keen to credit Patrick Doherty (Sean), who worked with him for over 40 years, up until his retirement last year.
“He was with me for a very, very long time and gave me 40 years of loyal service. I really can’t thank him enough,” he said.
David said fashion was “very basic” when he first started out in the business.
“You had about three colours of trousers, a pair of jeans for working and maybe a Wrangler jean. Everything was much simpler and more minimal.
“Years later, during the time of the Celtic Tiger, when money was plentiful, boys would come in on a Friday, maybe on their way home from Dublin. They’d buy a t-shirt, jeans and boots.
“The following week, they’d come back in wearing the clothes they’d just bought, covered in concrete. And, they’d buy another t-shirt and jeans that week.”
Those boys would leave the shop with their purchases in plastic bags, but that wasn’t always the case.
“There were no plastic bags in the early years,” said David.
“Everything was wrapped up in brown paper, which we’d buy and cut to size. It was then all tied up with a piece of string,”
David said a lot of his customers in the early days would travel to the shop in their tractors or on bikes and he enjoyed heavy trade on mart days.
“There weren’t too many cars back then. About 50% of my customers would be on a bike or tractor or by foot. If you went past the Chapel when Mass was on, there were three times more tractors than cars.
“When we started, the Carn Fair was held four times a year and it was hugely popular. You’d have people selling potatoes, cabbage plants and corn and we’d be very busy.
“When the Carn Mart opened, it was just massive and gave us a lot of trade. It was honestly like a circus coming in.”
David said their busiest day was on a Saturday, when local women would go into Carn on the 7 o’clock bus.
“We opened until 9pm on a Saturday. About 40% of our business would be done on the Saturday. The bus would come in and the ladies would do their shopping. They’d then leave on the bus out again about 9pm. I think the move to more out of town shopping is the biggest change I’ve seen, People are now travelling further afield.”
While many of his customers were ladies, purchasing for the men in their lives, David said he never considered stocking female fashions.
“Definitely not, the men were hard enough to please,” he quipped.
After over four decades in business, David said he is “proud” Mark’s Menswear has stood the test of time.
He said: “We had great customers and I have to thank them. I also have to pay tribute to my wife, Grace, as well as my two sons and daughter who helped out many times.”
David now intends to return the favour, as he reveals some of his retirement will be spent helping out his son, Bryan, in his own business – Cityman in Derry.
The family is also not leaving Carndonagh for good, as Bryan will open his own shop ‘Mark 2 Menswear’ at Supervalu Shopping Centre in the town soon.
“I’ll be helping him out now,” said David.
He added:“I’m also a keen tennis player and play twice a week, so will hopefully increase that. I’m most looking forward to spending more time with my lovely grandchildren.
“As well as that, I’m a keen fruit grower, especially strawberries and also grow a lot of flowers, so those will be the hobbies I want to spend more time on.”
After over 40 years serving the people of Carndonagh, it’s now time for David to quite literally sit back and smell the roses.