Over the past 25 years, the Olde Towne Garden — a Victorian gift shop filled with garden treasures and Irish imports — has become a fixture on Wantagh Avenue.
The shop, in a house with green, yellow, blue and pink trim, now fading from its years of Long Island weather, is owned by Ann Durkin and Ellen Dolan, sisters from Galway, Ireland. The property is bounded by a white picket fence, and Irish music plays on the shop’s speakers inside. Customers explore narrow aisles filled with shelves covered in offerings as varied as ornaments, candles, jewelry, cookies, chocolates and Irish apparel.
Durkin and Dolan, former Wantagh residents who now live in Massapequa, bought the building from a real estate developer in 1993, Durkin said, adding that it was scheduled to be demolished to make way for a strip mall. “We used to see this cute little building,” she recalled, “and kept thinking, ‘We should be able to do something with it.’”
Durkin said it was a dream of hers to run a shop like the Olde Towne Garden, which opened in 1994. “I love going into places like this,” she said.
The sisters had a shared vision for the shop to sell sentimental “things that you’d always like,” Durkin said. “Items that would speak to an occasion, if you want to get a gift for somebody, or if you want to celebrate an occasion, or just something pretty that you want to cheer yourself up. We try to always have things that we, ourselves, would like to get or would like to give somebody, as opposed to being something that’s hot right now.”
The shop started as a garden center, Durkin said, before she and Dolan segued into selling gifts. “A lot of the things we bring from Ireland, because they’re things we love and we wanted to bring here,” she said. “Especially the food — and the chocolates.”
The pair sought out trade shows as they traveled around Ireland and the U.S. “People would ask us, oh, do you have this [or] this?” Durkin said. “And then, when we went out looking, we saw things that we would love and couldn’t find locally that we would like to bring here.”
When she and her sister bought the building, Durkin was an accountant in New York City, and was pregnant with the first of her three children. “I didn’t want to be commuting,” she said. “I wanted to be able to work locally. So it all just came together at the right time.”
Durkin came to Garden City from Ireland in 1985, and Dolan followed a few years later. They moved to Wantagh in 1990. “We initially came [to the U.S.] to travel around on a working vacation, with the intention of seeing the West Coast also,” Durkin added in a text message. “However, New Yorkers were so nice, we never left.”
For more information about Olde Towne Garden, visit their website at https://www.irishvictorian.com/.