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The Tinker's Cart is Irish through and through.

The Tinker's Cart is located at 787 Main St., Clinton. The telephone number is (978) 365-4334. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Web site is www.tinkerscart.com; e-mail is tinkerscart@aol.com. Tinker's Cart has a second store located in the Natick Collection mall in Natick.

The Item Extra recently talked with Cheryl Parabicoli, who, along with her father, John Hughes, runs The Tinker's Cart.

Q: The Irish heritage is big in the Clinton area.

A: St Patrick's Day is a fun time. There are more people planning Celtic-themed weddings with customs and the traditional wedding. People like their heritage. We have Guinness items, including lamps and accessories. Everyone seems to be doing a room in their house as an Irish pub. We do a lot of coat of arms, pub signs, coat of arms pins and T-shirts with pub names. We can do Irish plates; people can have whatever they want on them.

Q: What are the items that are most popular?

A: This time of year, St. Patrick's Day is big. People come in that want Irish, from a party to a gift. We also have a lot of First Communions; we have the dress, veil and other things.

Spring weddings are popular and we have a good selection of wedding items, especially for a Celtic wedding, plus diamond engagement and wedding rings.

Q: What's the Open House that's coming up?

A: The St. Patrick's Open House on Saturday, March 15, will include refreshments and raffles in addition to sales on merchandise.

We will also host the annual contest in connection with The Item; in the past there has been a soda bread contest, but we are changing it a little this year. It will be Friday, March 14, with all kinds of baked goods with an Irish theme. Bring in baked goods between 9 and 11 a.m., and they will be judged by members of the community.

Q: Does the embroidery business keep you busy?

A: The embroidery is a separate business. We do things like the Old Timer shirts, shirts for Monty Tech, regular businesses. People find us by word of mouth. We do team shirts for sporting teams, family reunions, baseball caps, T-shirts, sweatshirts and denim. We embroider them ourselves with original Irish designs as well. We do a lot with police and fire and with other shops. We have the actual work shirts with embroidery, such as Men of Fire / Fir Na Tine. In addition, flat caps are always very popular as well as scarves.

Q: What types of jewelry do you sell?

A: We have five cases of jewelry. A lot of people don't know that Irish jewelry is protected by the oldest consumer protection hallmark. It requires a certain percentage of gold. Everything we get is really guaranteed. It's the oldest consumer protection office in Dublin. We can show them the marks and who makes them.

We have white gold, diamonds, emeralds, a lot of Claddagh, traditional Irish jewelry, as well as updated Celtic jewelry. We also have rings, broaches, pendants, bracelets in gold and silver, cufflinks and tie tacks.

Q: Who makes the jewelry you sell?

A: There are some small jewelers who handcraft pieces, some small individual jewelers who do pieces like the chess set in pewter. It's hand painted, hand cast.

Q: There's a lot in the store. What are some of the other items you offer?

A: We have pottery that's not the same old thing. People can get a shamrock plaque. Glass includes Waterford crystal. We have pewter from Mullingar. We offer a new line of Jimmy Hourihen capes from Dublin made of lambs' wool, some with hoods. We have sweaters for men and women that are colorful and with more up-to-date styling.

We've got Irish music, books, Belleek, Waterford crystal and Galway.

We have children's items. We do a big wedding business. We have christening gowns.

New line of sweaters, made of cotton, for kids, made in Gloucester.

Q: What is your involvement in the trips to Ireland?

A: One thing now going very well for us is the trips to Ireland. People love the trips. We offer them a brochure and they book through us.

They come in and say, "I've wanted to go to Ireland." The trips include bus tours and are all-inclusive through CIE, the oldest tour operator in Ireland. People just love it.

Travel has been good for us. It's a good example of what we can do with the North American Celtic Buyers Association (NACBA). We can do it as one joint effort. We've had a travel night at the Old Timers and a lot of it has just been word of mouth. Now friends of travelers are booking. I've never had anyone complain about the trips. They also have great drivers, who know the history, tell stories and sing songs.

People get attached to their fellow travelers and have fun.

A lot of people book trips to Ireland through the CIE tours we offer. We've booked a lot of them.

We travel back and forth a lot, between touring the small shops where the items are made to the tours. We belong to the NACBA and it helps put us in touch with what's going on and what's new. We can also provide people photos of the places where the items they buy here are actually made. It's good to know it's made in Ireland and has the quality people expect from Irish products.

The Web site also helps provide information on the trips. We can send people a regular newsletter if they sign up for the e-mail list on the Web site.

Q: How do you help people shopping for gifts?

A: We try to cater to people looking for gifts and help them. We'll put it in a gift bag or wrap it.

Here we go out of our way, looking up history, for instance. If we can find an answer for people, we do.

Q: What happens once someone sees the variety you have at the Tinker's Cart?

A: Once we get them in, they're loyal customers.

Q: How did the Tinker's Cart get started?

A: We started with pushcarts in malls and at festivals. It all began in 1986 when John and Janice Hughes wheeled a pushcart chock full of Irish wares into a mall in New Hampshire and the Tinker's Cart was born. One pushcart turned into two and then three. The pushcarts gave way to kiosks and seasonal stores at a variety of New England malls.

We've been in Clinton since 1998. It's nice to have a permanent location. This year, we've added a store at the Natick Collection; in 1989 we had a pushcart at the Natick Mall, so it's like returning.

Q: What's the benefit of the permanent location in Clinton?

A: In a mall, you have to go when they want. Here, we know our customers. There's not as much traffic, but you get to know customers and help more. We're convenient to get to. We have a parking lot in back of the building or they can park alongside the road.

Q: Do you get a lot of customers at the Natick Collection?

A: We get people in the mall for the store, or attracted by other stores. We're in a section of the Natick Collection with a lot of children's activities, like Build-a-Bear, so we have parents browsing while their children are busy. We also have gotten people as customers here who don't want to go back to the mall.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: John Hughes and Cheryl Parabicoli stand with some of the embroidered items as well as wedding accessories available at The Tinker's Cart at 787 Main St. in Clinton; a second store is located at the Natick Collection.

PHOTOG: Extra photo/KEN CLEVELAND
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 22, 2008
Words:1336
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