A Ballymena newsagent has celebrated 40 years in business and says he has no plans to retire any time soon as he enjoys dealing with his loyal band of customers too much.
Eugene Diamond (61) has been at the heart of the business community in the town since opening the doors of his Broughshane Street shop in 1979.
He joked that if he could do it for another 40 years he would like to go down in history as the oldest newsagent in the UK.
That would make him over 100 at that stage but he added: “I don’t think there is much chance of that!”
However, continued Eugene: “I will carry on, I have no plans to retire just at present. I enjoy it.”
“I am lucky that I have had a job that I enjoyed”.
The best thing about the shop over the years was “meeting people – everyone from different walks of life. I really enjoy the craic”.
The Ballymena man has never been put off by having to get up with the lark to open his shop at 5.30am each day and although he has free time during the afternoons he is always on hand again to close the doors at 10pm.
Eugene told ‘Ballymena Daily’ he first opened the shop as he always had an interest in newspapers from when he was a ten-year-old paper delivery boy and also previously worked for a newsagent.
He was also formerly manager of a clothes shop in Ballymena’s Church Street called ‘Bananas’ and before that he had worked for Murphy’s bottlers.
Over the years in his shop he has had help from his then girlfriend and now wife Janice, Janice’s mother Margaret Barr and his brother Terry to name just a few.
For 40 years he has had early starts that would have many people pulling the duvet back over their head but he revealed his previous job at Murphy’s meant it was not a big shock.
“The early starts have never annoyed me,” said Eugene.
When asked who his most famous customer was he said: “My da – nobody more famous than him – John Diamond”.
However, he said actor Liam Neeson had also been a customer in his “early days – before stardom”.
Eugene has always had a huge interest in newspapers and within hours of the papers hitting the shelves he will often have read much of what they contain.
He said “by far the biggest selling newspaper” was the Belfast Telegraph.
Eugene said his shop would have sold over 500 Belfast Telegraphs a day at the peak of the paper.
Eugene has seen many different products come and go over the years but remembers different new flavours of crisps going down a treat with customers.
“Spring Onion by Tudor really saw people want them. I bought a pallet of them one time because there were so many people looking for Spring Onion. Tudor was a really popular product here in Northern Ireland – especially the Tudor Specials and when they disappeared people still talk about them here.”
He said ‘Hedgehog’ flavoured crisps “caused a bit of a stir when I brought them in but I guaranteed people that no hedgehogs had died in the making of them! The local press including Lyle McMullan who was editor of the Ballymena Times enjoyed that one.”
Eugene also sold novelty items and recalls many crazes coming and going.
“Every so often Coca Cola would have brought out ‘Spinners’ – they were like yo-yos – ‘Spinners’ were massive every time they came out.”
“The last number of years we had a great sale on Loom Bands which were absolutely massive and about two years ago Fidgit spinners were big sellers.
“We used to be a big stockist of fireworks which were a big big line with us.”
He remembered introducing ‘eating paper’ and heated crisps were also popular.
“We also had a video library – one of the first small shops in Northern Ireland to have a video library in conjunction with Xtra-vision.
“We were famous for introducing ‘Ballymena Rock’. When we introduced it it was a big thing because it was normally associated with coastal towns and the nearest shoreline to here was 15 miles away. It was once discussed on Talkback with David Dunseith”.
Eugene is also a National Lottery retailer and in the past few years a person won £300,000 on a scratch card.
He said he was “dumbfounded” by the reaction to his 40th anniversary which saw good wishes from customers near and far.
He ran a promotion with a number of items and newspapers on sale at 1979 prices.
“It made the Belfast newspapers and was also on the BBC. I got a real buzz out of it.”
The newsagent has a high media profile and is often sought out by the media to comment on retail issues.
He has never been shy at promoting his shop and every year he is particularly well known for selling Creme Eggs.
He always seems to be one of the first people to get them each year and it always generates a few column inches in the press.
Eugene – who has a large number of followers on Facebook and Twitter – where he is particularly famous for putting up pictures of the front and back pages of newspapers – says he loves to keep an eye on local events.
“We get a good interaction on social media and it means that when people come to Ballymena they tend to come and visit Diamond’s because that ‘eejit’ that runs it is on Twitter!,” he said.
Eugene is known as having a great news-sense and his observations on social media are often followed up by the media.
So don’t be surprised if Eugene’s continued presence behind the counter makes the headlines in 2059!