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Knock, Knock .... Who Was There?


At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a grocer at the corner of Cromac Square in the Markets district of Belfast and in 1903 joined the Agnes Street store (off the Shankill Road) of grocer George Kelly, whose reference in 1908 for Stewart described him as “a very honest, sober, truthful, careful and obliging young man”. After two brief spells of work in Canada, Joe Stewart opened his own grocery store – Greenville Cash Stores – with a fanfare of publicity on 30 September 1911, at 9 Greenville Terrace (alternatively: 334 Upper Beersbridge Road) in the Bloomfield district of East Belfast.


In 1922 he purchased two of the adjacent properties, plus another in 1927, and christened his expanded emporium Stewart’s Cash Stores, a name which became instantly recognisable and familiar in Northern Ireland until 1969. His second principal long-term store was located on the Newtownards Road (at the junction with Gawn Street), but in 1916 he had briefly opened another store at the junction of the Castlereagh Road and Isoline Street, and was intensely annoyed and reluctant to be bought out by the Co-op. He vowed that thereafter he would open a rival establishment close to any new Co-op store which opened. He kept his word, and eventually boasted 72 shops throughout Northern Ireland.


Whilst his name is not as celebrated as that of other business- men of East Belfast – such as Lord Pirrie and Sir Edward Harland (of Harland & Wolff), and Sir Samuel Davidson (the founder of Sirocco Works) – Stewart’s entrepreneurial flair bears compari- son with theirs. He ran a successful commercial enterprise which, based in East Belfast for over eighty years, provided employment for many thousands (in 1986 the company boasted 3000 employ- ees). His approach to business echoed the advice which Pirrie ac- cepted from his own mother: “You have your own way to make; it depends of your exertions whether you succeed or not”.


Joe Stewart was a grocer who was fastidious about the details of his trade. Even during his second honeymoon in 1936, and on a holi-


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