The independent family-run Kennys Bookshop & Art Gallery in Galway, Ireland, is celebrating 80 years in business this year after attributing its success to "innovation and experience".
Opened in Galway in 1940 by Des and Maureen Kenny, it has grown and expanded ever since and was the first business in Ireland to go online in 1994.
The business includes a retail bookshop, an art gallery, a book bindery and a libraries and special collections division. "In an era where homogenous, international high street stores have closed many independent Irish businesses, Kennys has managed to adapt and survive for 80 years," Kennys said. In addition to five of Des and Maureen’s six children, several of their grandchildren now also work in the business full-time.
Bookseller and marketer Sarah Kenny, who is a grandchild of Des and Maureen Kenny, told The Bookseller: “We are delighted and very proud to have reached this milestone. My grandparents Des and Maureen Kenny started the business in 1940 [see opening announcement below] and they would be thrilled to see where it is today, and to see members of the next generations of the family working in the business. We have faced many challenges over the years and have gone through both successful and difficult times—80 years in the book business is certainly something worth celebrating.”
As to why the store had endured, she said: “Innovation and experience have both played a major part. We were early adaptors and developed an overseas library and consumer market for Irish books, and are now the longest running online bookshop in the world with [online shop] Kennys.ie.”
She revealed there was real pressure on the simple matter of “survival” facing independent booksellers in 2020 including “the uncertainty around Brexit and what its impact will be”.
Like much of the industry, Kenny is also concerned by “Amazon—dealing with them as both a third-party seller and a competitor—it is expensive to sell on their portals, as they take a huge cut.
“Buying direct is so much better and often cheaper for the consumer, and thankfully there is a continuously growing sector of people looking for alternative places to shop online and wanting to support independent traders."
She added: "We need to continuously innovate and buy and sell product that is not on Amazon.”
Many acclaimed literary figures have gone through the bookshop’s doors over the years including Seamus Heaney, Edna O’Brien, Sebastian Barry, Roald Dahl, and Allen Ginsberg.
Kennys aim to promote Irish writing and publishing and send thousands of Irish books overseas annually, furnishing institutions including The Library of Congress, Harvard, Boston College, Princeton and the University of Notre Dame. In terms of the special collections it has sold many writers’ archives including those of Donal Ryan, Dermot Healy and Michael Longley, and the publishers’ archives of Raven Arts Press and Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
The Kenny Gallery has been organising exhibitions of original artworks since the early 1950s, and has showcased the works of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí and Robert Ballagh among others. Kennys has a programme of exhibitions running throughout the year, including group shows, sculpture, painting, printmaking and children’s art. Events include sculptor John Behan’s show “Migrants”, new paintings by Pádraic Reaney, an Old Galway photographic exhibition and an exhibition of European children’s books illustrators. The year will finish with a special exhibition in November, "40 Visual Artists / 40 Writers”, celebrating Kennys 80-year history.