My bottle opener broke just after Christmas. Luckily our kitchen scissors have a notch for opening bottles, which got me through that late December evening. A few months later and I’m still using the scissors to open bottles, and each night I say I must get a proper opener. I enjoy a bottle or two of good beer three or four nights a week, so on average, I must say that about eight times from Thursday to Sunday. Walking past one of my favourite shops in town last week I decided it was time to indulge myself; one of the reasons I hadn’t bought a new opener was that I hadn’t paid a visit to Small Benner’s for a while but now was a perfect time.
Small Benner’s is one of those shops every town once had, should still have, and thankfully Tralee still has today. Benner’s is over the door, and the shop is small inside, but full of all things hardware. From egg slicers to knives to meat thermometers and milk jugs you’ll find all you need inside the door. Among the many top draws to Small Benner’s are the array of goods and the staff, but for me it is the quality too. What you buy lasts: the glass measuring jug I purchased a few years ago is still going strong, the cut door keys are keeping our house safe, and the cushion pads are preventing the kitchen chairs from scraping on the marble floor. Yes, you can get those pads in all shapes and sizes in Small Benner’s Tralee.
As usual there are a few people inside. When you walk in the counter is to the right, which has a gap on either end to let staff float in and out without getting in each other’s way. To your left are shelves and hooks, literally to the ceiling stocked with all the goods any home may need. There is not any discernible layout; kitchen goods go cheek by jowl with ornaments and screwdrivers. Over on the right, behind the till and beyond towards the back are batteries, lighters, gas refills, pastry brushes, butter dishes, ceramic tea cups and much, much more. Looking around you see where you can get those items you only associate with your parent’s house. The kitchen drain sieves, the egg timers, solid looking cheese graters, wooden clothes pegs, stainless steel vegetable strainers which fan open, potato steamers, tap swirls, cup hooks and sink plugs. Notice the plural here because there is plenty of every item and many choices within the range. Not just the one brand of key fobs but a few of different sizes shapes and utility and it is the same with nearly every category of stock item. How they manage to get so much into so small an area, yet display every item clearly and not mix them up is a miracle of modern commerce. They sell fishing tackle, air guns, hunting knives and duct tape. The shop never seems crowded though it is always busy and even if you are not looking for something, you will see that one item you need.
I look around for the bottle opener I want, a wooden handled one with a solid steel mechanism. There is a three-in-one of opener, corkscrew and small serrated knife which catches my eye but I cannot see my particular choice. I ask the lady behind the counter who is as knowledgeable about the stock as any catalogue could be. She knows what I’m looking for and comes out to look on the wall by the door. Beneath the shower adapter for the bath taps and the good array of carving knives, she pulls back the mass of other goods.
“We do have one of those,” she says, “but it may be out of stock.”
She asks the young man helping another customer who thinks the last one went only the previous day, but more should be in by the next Friday. We look at the three-in-one opener I was thinking of, and I have a feeling it will be my new one.
“Look after that lady first,” I say, as I keep looking, waiting to make up my mind.
The attendant turns back to help the woman she was showing casserole dishes to, who has now made up her mind.
“I’ll take the floral white one, the large one,” she says.
“Fine,” says the lady putting it by the till.
“I’d better take five of them,” says the woman.
“Okay,” says the lady behind the counter.
“All mine are gone,” the woman continues, “my daughter brings her husband’s dinner up from my house in them every day and of course they never come back.”
That night I tell Lisa of the disappearing casserole dishes while opening my bottle of Beal Bán Golden Ale with my new opener. She laughs at the beauty of it, and we both ask, almost at the same time:
“Does the husband know?”
We can only wonder.