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 Not Your Average Import Store

By: Cliodhna Joyce-Daly

Being away from Ireland can be nostalgic, whether it’s the relaxed lifestyle, luscious green fields, or even the fresh Irish breeze-it can be tough to say goodbye to the Emerald Isle.

While you may have to say farewell to the climate-you don’t have to give up on your comforts of Ireland just yet.

Owner of Donegal Imports Alex McGrath knew he had to bring a little taste of Ireland to Chicago.

Despite its name, Donegal Imports, located on Devon Ave, offers much more than your typical Irish produce.

“I wanted a shop that was different from all the traditional stores,” McGrath said. “I wanted something that was a bit more unique.”

For 38 years, Donegal Imports, has been one of the leading Irish Import stores in Chicago-with products ranging from authentic jams and cookies to bog-side turf and real Irish wool.  Boxes of Tayto potato crisps are stacked along the wall, with an entire shelve dedicated to your favorite afternoon tea biscuits.

 He carries an abundance of Irish products that are difficult to find.

“One big sale item we have is the newspapers,” McGrath said. “We are the only shop that carries them.”

While authenticity and hard to find products are the staple of the business, the operation’s success has also hinged upon McGrath’s extensive business acumen.

Before establishing Donegal Imports, McGrath managed Jewel-Osco supermarkets around the Chicago area.

“I learned the ins and outs of the business,” McGrath said. “I kept track of the employees, produce, profits, etc.”

From the experience he gained, McGrath thought it would be best to step back to his Irish roots and open his own business up.

With the help of his wife, Sheila and other prominent Chicago figures like radio personality, Wally Phillips, McGrath attracted enough publicity and money to establish Donegal Imports.

While the locations have changed (from south side to Edgebrook), his business has not wavered.

“Most of our customers have been with us for years,” McGrath said as he greets a customer by name.  
His relationship with customers is very hands on, a trait that is difficult to find in the marketplace these days.  

But all of this still begs one question: What is with the name, Donegal Imports?

“It was Sheila’s idea,” McGrath said. “She came up with the name. She is the boss.”

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