sundaylife

| 8.8°C Belfast

50 years of Fresh Garbage: A look at the history of and the people behind the Belfast institution

Bohemian bolthole has dressed city's punks, goths and rockers for generations

Fresh Garbage

Fifty years ago a young radiologist ditched her job and launched a shop that introduced the alternative scene to Belfast.

The idea was to create somewhere that would meet the needs of hippies, goths, punks and rockers, groups at that point ignored by retailers.

The alternative scene was about to blow up and Fresh Garbage was the catalyst for the change.

Geraldine Lynn, a young woman from the Glens of Antrim with a passion for art and fashion, signed the lease on a small store on Bank Street, Fresh Garbage's original location, close to Kelly's Cellars.

Her now husband Turlough Birch suggested the name, inspired by a song by a band called Spirit, and the pair set off to Kensington Market in London with £150 to buy stock.

After the store opened, it soon became a mecca for people looking for something a little different.

Its initial stock consisted of flared trousers, cheesecloth blouses and shirts, flowing skirts, printed dresses, scarves, bangles and necklaces. Geraldine and Turlough also made leather goods, fringed bags, neckbands, wristbands and belts.

Close

Geraldine Lynn at the original Fresh Garbage store in Bank Street, Belfast, during the 1970s.

Geraldine Lynn at the original Fresh Garbage store in Bank Street, Belfast, during the 1970s.

Everyone wanted a piece of Fresh Garbage. Even Terri Hooley sold magazines outside.

Business was booming, but as the Troubles brought havoc to the city centre and wider region, the shop began to suffer.

"A soldier was shot at the fence at the bottom of the street," Turlough says.

"The military's reaction was to move the security fence further up the street, cutting us off from the city centre."

By the early 1980s, the situation had deteriorated and Bank Street had become something of a no-go area.

As a result, there was no police presence and the store was robbed countless times .

The final straw for the location came when the security forces removed a bomb from Bank Buildings and detonated it in front of the shop, causing serious damage.

In 1985 Geraldine and Turlough relocated to the nearby Rosemary Street, taking with them all the resilience and guts they had used to launch the business in the first place.

"It was sad leaving, but it really was time to go," Turlough says.

"However, it's great to now see Kelly's Cellars and Bank Street back as a thriving part of the city. We still drop in for a wee drink.

"Despite reservations and doubts, the move worked out and we drifted into the 1990s.

"It was a strange feeling standing behind the counter in the new shop.

"It felt like overseeing a football field compared to the cramped terrace house in Bank Street.

"We were providing for the punk scene, the dance scene, the hippy scene and the festival scene, as well as importing exotic creations and leather garments from Ibiza.

"The sound system was great and we could really belt it (music) out on a Saturday."

Close

Fresh Garbage at 50.

Fresh Garbage at 50.

Unfortunately, the business suffered during the 1990s.

But just as the owners were questioning whether they could keep the shop going, they were blessed by the 'nu rock' explosion, with fans of the likes of Offspring, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit drawn to Fresh Garbage.

By 2001 the shop was booming again and had evolved to sell jeans, T-shirts, hoodies, make-up, hair dye, incense, fancy dress outfits, posters, bedspreads, wall art and fetish clubwear.

Today, despite a miserable year for retailers in the city centre, the store is more popular than ever.

Geraldine and Turlough have retired, but the business is thriving thanks to sons James and Nick and James's wife Alanna.

Alanna, a Fresh Garbage stalwart who has been behind the counter for longer than most of her loyal customers can remember, believes the shop offers something unique to Belfast.

Close

 Owner Geraldine Birch pictured at the shop on Rosemary Street.

Owner Geraldine Birch pictured at the shop on Rosemary Street.

Jonathan Porter/Presseye.com

"There's nowhere else like it," she says. "The store has never deviated from its roots. It offers something alternative for anyone that seeks it.

"We are the hippy centre and we don't follow the norm or conform.

"Everything about Fresh Garbage is different, from the stock, the sights and the sounds to the smells. It offers a sensory experience and people can't get enough of it.

"I was always a huge fan of Fresh Garbage growing up. I would come into the store all the time.

"I couldn't believe my luck one day when I saw a sign for a sales assistant opening. I applied and phoned them every day and tortured them until eventually they agreed to give me a try. It was a dream come true."

Alanna (36) is such a part of Fresh Garbage that she actually met her now husband James (37) while working there.

"James would work every Saturday. I was a goth and he was a steek, but I suppose opposites attract," she says.

The couple have been together for 20 years, six of them as husband and wife, and have a four-year-old daughter.

James can remember the shop's low and high points and particularly how it was transformed after the explosion of nu metal music.

"The place went crazy. People were coming into the store wearing their tracksuits and walking out like Marilyn Manson," he jokes.

"We have things in here that you just can't buy anywhere else. Copycat shops come and go, but they never last.

"We have so many regulars and we make everyone feel welcome and at home."

Fresh Garbage has become such a legend that there's even a shop T-shirt on the grave of AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott in Australia.

Turlough Birch.

For James, Geraldine's decision to launch the business was a leap in the dark.

"Mum deserves credit for opening a store in Belfast during the Troubles," he says.

"A young girl from the Glens of Antrim setting up shop in the big smoke - that was a big deal at that time.

"Decades on we're still holding our own and standing tall against the national companies."

Fresh Garbage recently won its second independent retailer gong at the GNI Awards, but it hasn't always been so popular.

"We feel we should have a sign in here that reads, 'Fresh Garbage - p***ing off parents for 50 years'," jokes Alanna.

Whatever mums and dads think of the shop, it has shown remarkable resilience throughout its existence.

"I suppose the main reason Fresh Garbage has survived for five decades is that it has the ability to change quickly and pick up new trends," Turlough says.

"The staff is made up of mostly family and close friends and we all enjoy working together.

"More often than not, we get perfect reviews for customer service.

"We are proud of our shop. Our customer range has no age limit and there is something for everybody. The original aim to create a place different from any other shop still holds.

"It should be an experience to enter the premises if for no other reason than the music and the atmosphere."

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph