From 1901, the Johnston family has traded from the Main Street in Blacklion and that legacy is still going strong despite the recent cessation of trading due to the coronavirus.

The well known shop has came through many ups and downs throughout its 119 year history.

Harold himself recalls much of the history of the shop, which began with his grandmother before passing to his father and then eventually on to him.

“The shop was started in 1901 by my grandmother, and she had five dressmakers and herself upstairs at that time,” explains Harold. “They used to make most of the stuff for the people, they made a lot of flannel petticoats and all kinds of underwear and that but they also made wedding dresses.

“She was a trained seamstress and she made hats as well and used to make hats for people and that general seamstress work at the time. Some of them came from Donegal at that time and they married locally.”

During the First World War, business was good according to Harold but by the early 20s and into the 30s the ever increasing number of factories, the clothes making in the shop died out as they began to buy in the stock they were selling.

“My father used to say in the 1930s the value of the stock instead of going up in price went down to half the price.

“I looked up the old lodgement books in 1930s and it was hardly worth your while to go with your money to the bank.”

Until “the boom” came to Blacklion with the outbreak of the Second World War on September 1, 1939. “The circus arrived in Blacklion that Sunday and the customs man was in the wee hut and this circus arrived with trailers going back to Belcoo and all round and there were elephants and tigers and once they heard war was declared they had to clear out of the North because they had 12 or 15 German nationals working on the circus and if they stayed they would have been interned.

“They arrived across Border and the custom man was on the phone to headquarters and he says I have elephants and tigers and all sorts outside the door and the fella he phoned thought it was a joke and says to him, ‘were you on the drink last night’ and he says no ‘tis the circus and what am I going to do’. They were told they could go no further than Blacklion until they were cleared by customs and so they set up the circus in a field and put on a show.

“There were stilt walkers, nobody ever saw stilt walkers in Blacklion, and they started putting leaflets in through top windows and tapping the top windows.”

Harold said the place was full of money compared to the week before and it was the start of Blacklion taking off. With rationing in force due to the war, smuggling was rife between the Border villages and it continued after the war ended while the Johnston business “shuffled on through” as well.

Harold remembers as he began working in the shop how people who would have emigrated to America and Canada would write to his father asking him to send some clothes to their parents and they would send over dollars as payment. “They told my father in a letter if they sent the money home to them they were that frugal and careful they wouldn’t spend it and they were happier to know the two of them were good and warm for the winter and that’s what they did for families at home.

“Because if they give it to them they would put it straight into the bank and they would hold it in the bank and then when maybe you were home they would give it to you.”

The youngest of eight children, Harold has sold thousands of items in the shop, but one of the most unusual transactions he had was the sale of 26 caps.

“My father went out for a walk somewhere and he came in and said did you sell anything and I said I did I sold 26 caps to the one man. He hardly believed me.

“We had a fierce stock of caps that time and this man came in, in a big American car he parked across the street and he came in said do you have any caps here somebody told me I might get old fashioned caps here. I took down this box and he took them out and looked in the mirror, he tried it on and he said have you any more and I said to myself will I ever get rid of this fella going through all these caps. I didn’t realise what he was doing. He said I’m taking all those and I said there’s 26 caps here and he said it was alright I want them for a film.

“I didn’t ask him what film but he was making one over the west of Ireland and he wanted the real old caps for it and he was putting each cap on his head making sure it was the right style or shape.”

The Troubles was another difficult time for Blacklion and the shop.

“There was one Christmas and we were very busy in the shop and some rockets were fired down in Belcoo and the people in the shop nearly passed out with the noise and they went home and I never saw them back for about five years.” Again the shop endured. And it will continue to do so, for now.

“Sure I’m retiring this 20 years. As the fella says some people rust out, others wear out.

“I have no one to take over that’s the trouble but everything comes to an end at sometime.”