HOLLYWOOD HILLS—The last remaining Irish novelty shop in Los Angeles, Macnamara’s Irish Import Shop at 742 Vine Street, may be forced to close its doors by the end of February due to crippling effects from the pandemic and increases in rent. The owner, Thom Macnamara, has set up a GoFundMe in hopes that the community will lend support during this difficult time.
According to Macnamara, several factors related to the pandemic are impacting the business: the community is spread out and has been reluctant to gather in groups. Supply chains of goods have been inconsistent “at best” – the store hasn’t received Irish soda bread, an Irish staple, in months – and the rise of ordering off of Amazon has brought financial burden to Irish Import’s sales. Macnamara’s biggest hurdle is the 50 percent increase in rent and an approximate $12,000 Southern California Edison debt that accumulated over COVID.
“I’m worried about losing a place that brings a sense of community for generations of Irish and the people of Los Angeles,” Macnamara said. “Novelty stores such as this are becoming fewer and fewer in the city and people should care because it takes away from the culture that makes this city so diverse.”
The Irish Import Shop – originally started in the living room of the initial owners, Ann and Richard Jones, a couple from Ireland – has been open since 1963. Since its inception, the shop has been a center for Irish communities and fans to remain connected to the culture. When Macnamara – a first-generation Irishman from New York – acquired the shop back in October 2017, he added a 40-person capacity theater, The Wren Theater, expanding it beyond being a local Celtic grocer into a space for communities to experience Celtic theater, stand-up comedy and other productions.
Macnamara’s Irish Import Shop – open five days a week, except Mondays and Tuesdays, from noon to 4 p.m. – offers a wide range of groceries and gifts from Ireland and the UK, including Irish sausage and meats, biscuits, baked beans, tea, candy and much more. With a primarily Irish, Scottish and English customer base, Macnamara’s prides itself on providing a space for multi-generational families to come together and experience nostalgia.
“The best part of the store is the community that surrounds it,” Macnamara said. “I’ve watched customers’ children grow and it’s nice to know those people. It’s a great place to come, chat and meet the community,” Macnamara added. “People have lost the art of conversation; everything we get here you can also get online, however, it’s the personal touch that we provide and want to preserve.”
In addition to the store, the theater hosts stand-up comedy nights Fridays and Saturdays with the hopes of opening more days. The theater, originally intended for Irish productions, is open to all productions and can be rented out for rehearsals. It’s one of the few remaining local theaters that hosts plays for Fringe Festival, an annual theater festival in Hollywood.
Macnamara’s “Tommy & The Brother’s” play – a little known story about a 1960s influential Irish Folk band – won a gold medal at Fringe Festival last year.
“There are less and less theaters around for the Fringe festival to go on, another lasting effect of the pandemic,” he adds.
Macnamara hopes to keep the doors open until June for the Fringe Festival and beyond. “I love having the shop and the theater and the atmosphere it generates, and that atmosphere is threatened right now.”
Extend your support of local businesses by donating to Macnamara’s Irish Import Shop today. It will contribute to keeping a much-needed cultural tradition alive.