Under shamrock eaves on 15th Ave in Ballard, a blue door welcomes customers with an “Open” sign. In the entryway there’s a cork board filled with business cards. Each slip has its own personal pop: a Celtic symbol, a black and white harp, or a frog strumming a guitar.
Even though Galway Traders’ cork board is cluttered with mini advertisements, it isn’t a hint to take business elsewhere. The Irish import shop doesn’t limit itself to selling: it’s also a resource center for Seattle’s Irish community.
But in a matter of months, the shamrock eves of Galway Traders will have vanished.
This past fall, Eileen Kilgren and Eveline Murray, the sole employee and owner of Galway Traders, learned a new housing complex would replace their 103-year-old treasure.
“The people next door at the garage, they wanted to sell. They needed the money… We were sort of forced into it by the neighbors,” Kilgren said.
The demolition date isn’t set in stone, but the deadline looms in the back of Kilgren’s mind.
The house, originally built in 1912 by the Sheriff family, was a place of true Irish spirit. Descendants of John Sheriff, an immigrant from County Cork, Ireland, carved the shamrocks into the eaves. Eventually Eveline Murray (who is actually German) bought the house with her husband Hugh and another local couple, and filled the place with imported Irish goods.
“It’s not just a store. It’s a story. It’s like walking into a story — a history,” Kilgren said. After growing up in Seattle and traveling the world in her youth, she started working at the store back in 1991, exploring a new world filled with cozy emerald sweaters and a good cup of tea.
The demolition of the house is inevitable, but there is hope for the imports business that currently resides there.
“If someone wanted to buy the name and the inventory, we would sell that to them,” Kilgren said. “I don’t see the store closing.”
The shop could alternatively downsize to another location. Kilgren is rooting for Greenwood, although she says she may only stick around if Murray needs her assistance.
“I think taking out old houses and replacing them with modern condos destroys the character of the community. The old houses are what give it character. And the small mom-and-pop shops,” Kilgren said.
But the neighborhood isn’t all that’s changing.
John Keane, treasurer of the Irish Heritage Club, has been watching the Irish community change as well. Younger immigrants coming to the U.S. for work often spend weekends dabbling in outdoor activities, like hiking and skiing, rather than participating in cultural gatherings.
In the past, family events like picnics were a huge part of the Heritage Club’s programming. Now he’s hoping to find a middle ground.
“We need occasions like that to keep the Irish connections alive,” Keane said.
With nearly 7 thousand immigrants coming to the U.S. from Ireland in 2014 — up from 3.9 thousand in 2004 — opportunities to learn about Irish culture in Seattle should be easier than ever. Finding the right activities to engage people may be the most difficult part.
Using her language skills and knowledge of the area, Kilgren tries to keep the connection alive herself. She answers questions about Irish pronunciation, and where to hunt down the best Irish dance classes.
Although her time in Ballard may be limited, she still finds plenty of reasons to look forward to going to work at Galway Traders.
“I love teaching people. That’s a big thrill for me, is teaching. Sharing information. Correcting misinformation,” she quips. “It’s not Sell-tik, it’s Kel-tik.”
This article has been updated to correct information about Galway Traders’ ownership and just who carved those shamrocks.