The Irish pub in Colorado responsible for the annual 'world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade' is to close its doors this weekend after 17 years in business.
Last Wednesday, September 28, Conor O’Neill’s pub, located just off Pearl St in Boulder, Colorado, celebrated its 17th birthday just days after its owners, Cork man Colm O’Neill and Tom Murray from Detroit, announced via Facebook that this weekend was to be its last. The future of the fan-favorite St. Patrick’s Day parade also looks bleak.
Starting off at O’Neill’s, the parade would take a short trip down 13th Street between Walnut and Spruce streets before turning around for a second pass.
“Who knows?,” O’Neill told IrishCentral, when asked if the parade would continue in the pub’s absence.
“We would have done it for 17 years and it definitely became very popular. People absolutely lapped it up.”
“There's quite a bit of effort goes into it and effort would have started a couple of months before hand. Obviously because of us, my wife is also from Kerry, and because of the whole Irish tie-in and the pub, there was good incentive for us to pull it along whereas now it would be a different story.
“There isn't a particularly big Irish community in Boulder in terms of getting people to be enthusiastic about it.”
Having already established a successful Irish pub, in Ann Arbor, MI O’Neill and his business partner Murray, whose father hails from Co. Sligo, were introduced through a friend to a person selling a pub in Boulder. Wishing to expand on their business, they took over the Irish American pub, The James, in 1999 and redecorated it to match the decoration of the their Ann Arbor pub.
O’Neill settled in Boulder and spent 15 successful years as owner of Conor O’Neill’s before a large-scale construction project, which began in 2014, closed off their patio and half of their seating space, causing a drastic dip in business.
“It's just business,” O’Neill admits good-naturedly, despite the negative impact of the construction that quenched their business after a decade and a half of good fortune.
“If the numbers work, things are good and if the numbers don't work, then it's just time to move on.
“We had a unique situation … We had been in existence for 15 years and had done quite well for 15 years … A big construction project took place over the course of the last two years literally right behind our pub and for the builder to do the project he needed some of our space so we ended up losing half the seats of the pub.
“Our pub was literally cut in half and our patio had to go, one of the rooms in the pub had to go … We had about 150 seats in the pub and about 75 to 80 we ended up losing because of this big construction project and that ferociously affected our sales whereby it just made it all the harder to keep the show on the road.
“It’s no different to anywhere else in the States. In the summer, the patio is the most popular part of the seating and for the last two summers we've had no patio so, obviously, people just went to places that had patios and it hugely affected our business.”
Despite paying reduced rent as agreed with the building owner throughout the period of construction, and attempting to strike a deal for more manageable rent to continue until sales went back up again, a deal failed to be reached and for O’Neill’s owners “it just didn't make sense us staying.”
“As a viable business proposition it didn't work for us so it was time for us to move on,” O’Neill added. “Hey, if somebody else is willing to give it a shot, best of luck to them, but from our perspective the damage that was done when our space got cut in half. It was just too much and it was impossible to get it back up in a hurry.”
Although the University of Colorado, located in Boulder, does offer Irish and British Studies options for its students, the city of Boulder itself, with a population estimate of 100,000 people, does not have an extremely large Irish population. At least in comparison to nearby Denver, home to the Denver Gaels hurling and football club.
Despite the lack of a local Irish community, the pub has drawn in crowds in its 17-year history, particularly now. The bar has been packed ever since the closing announcement was made.
“A lot of people are not happy with what has played out,” O’Neill admits, despite seeming to have accepted his pub’s fate himself.
“I've received everything from people emailing me saying ‘we want to do a petition’ and we've been packed every night since we said we were closing.
“The actual feedback has been absolutely phenomenal, the response has been phenomenal. Even though for us now, our issue has been going on for two years. The feedback and the response have been absolutely first class.”
Have you ever attended the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade? Will you be sorry to see it come to an end? Or do you know of another town’s parade that may now be the shortest? Let us know in the comments section, below.