Step inside The Irish Gift House at 1335 W. University Drive in Tempe and you’re greeted by a wave of green. Green cups. Green caps. Green golf balls. Green tea.
Besides being the favorite — and known as the color of the Irish — on Saturday the green items filling the shelves at Arizona’s and the Southwest’s biggest Irish gift shop will have a special meaning.
That’s because — as if you don’t already know — Saturday is Saint Patrick’s Day. “It’s our store’s 13th Saint Patrick’s Day,” said Andrew Costanzo, co-owner with his wife, Kerry O’Neal Costanzo, of the shop at the southeast corner of Priest and University drives.
“It’s also one of our busiest months of the year,” said Kerry, a native of Phoenix whose grandparents moved from Ireland to the United States.
Kerry learned first-hand about the Irish gift business when she worked for Lorraine Flynn at Irish Imports in Phoenix. That once popular store closed in 1994, and the Costanzos decided it was time to open their own shop in the East Valley.
“At first, we had a limited supply of gifts and, for the first five years, things were a bit tough,” said Andrew, a native of New York City.
“Gradually, we increased our inventory and, by advertising and word-of-mouth, our business began to take off,” Kerry said.
Today, The Irish Gift House and its 1,000 square feet filled with mostly green merchandise is considered to have one of the largest inventories of any Irish store in the nation, according to its owners and suppliers who deal with Irish gift stores nationally and internationally.
They sell more than 3,000 products, ranging from 10-cent shamrock tokens to jewelry handmade in Ireland costing as much as $3,000. However, when they first opened they sold only about 300, or about 10 percent of their current inventory.
“Their store is such a friendly place to visit,” said Ann Moyle of Mesa. Moyle was born in Dublin, Ireland, and later moved to England and then Michigan. She moved to the Valley about the same time the Costanzos opened their shop.
“I just stumbled in to the store, and it was like finding my home,” said Moyle, who regularly buys gifts for her grandchildren and a special for herself — chocolate.
“I ate chocolate growing up in Dublin and I was able to find the same chocolate in Tempe,” Moyle said. “Andrew saves it for me — and when I can’t make it from Mesa to Tempe — he sends it to me.”
Shoppers spend nearly as much time talking about their Irish heritage or reminiscing as they do examining gifts, Kerry said.
“It’s unusual for a customer to buy something and say hardly anything,” she said. “We’re like family.”
Saint Patrick’s Day buyers focus on Irish-related gifts such as T-shirts, shamrocks on virtually everything from suspenders, socks and golf caps and, for some, expensive jewelry, including The Warrior Celtic Sheild Brand ring made in Ireland by The Jewelry House for $48 to $52 or the 14K Shamrock Stud Earrings that cost $648.
A Guinness Fun Hat with the famous Guinness beer label is a popular Saint Patrick’s Day item for $29.95.
“Saint Patrick’s Day is a fun day here, but in Ireland it’s a little more somber,” Kerry said. “Although, at second thought, the Irish in Ireland are getting a little more like Americans when it comes to celebrating and, maybe, a little less serious.”
• According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry, or nearly 10 times the entire population of Ireland today, which stands at 3.9 million. Among U.S. ethnic groups, the number of Irish-Americans in the U.S. is second only to the number of German-Americans.
•$23.8 billion — the value of U.S. imports from the Irish Republic during a recent 10-month period (January-October 2006). Meanwhile, the United States exported $6.9 billion worth of goods to Ireland.
• Guinness Stout, first brewed by Arthur Guinness in Dublin, Ireland, in 1759, has become synonymous with Ireland and Irish bars. According to the company’s Web site, 1,883,200,000 pints of Guinness are consumed around the world every year.