Irish Harper in Aisle Two!
There was an Irish group playing tunes, corned beef and cabbage being served, and everyone was wearing those ubiquitous green Irish mardi gras beads and green derbys. Three guesses where I spent my St. Paddy’s Day.
That’s right—in a supermarket.
For the last 30 years, Murphy’s Marketplace in New Jersey has been marking St. Patrick’s Day with ever greater panache. This year, in his flagship store in Medford, owner Ron Murphy himself was handing out free beads, hats, teddy bears, balloons, and potted shamrocks while Blarney (Fintan Malone and Tom Brett with special guest on percussion, Father Jim Barry from St. Mary’s RC Church in Salem, NJ ) played at the front of the store and checkers handed every customer a green carnation. Ron’s wife, Kathleen, was busy cutting slices of cake (12 sheet cakes lined up to make one massive confection) that she handed out to customers who washed it down with “Irish coffee” – free coffee mixed with Bailey’s creamer and topped with whipped cream but, though it had to be 5 ‘clock somewhere, no Jameson. And the kids waited in line for their very own balloon animal twisted up to custom order by the pony-tailed and wisecracking Jack the Balloon Man. Later in the day, after school let out, there would be Irish step dancers, somewhere over in the bread aisle.
Of course, there’s a logical explanation for this. “Murphy’s, St. Paddy’s Day, all my stores are green, it’s a natural,” said Ron Murphy, wearing a green-and-white- striped cap and green-and-blue striped club tie with his smart business suit.
Murphy was in his Medford store “because if I’m not here, I get calls” from longtime customers who expect him to be orchestrating the ballyhoo. Just a few miles away, Dennis Gormley and Kathy DeAngelo, who work professionally as McDermott’s Handy, were marching to the deli counter at the Forge Murphy’s to the tune of “Lord Mayo.” There, deli clerk Chris Heide joined them in a song. “He sings all the time,” confided a co-worker. He just doesn’t usually have live accompaniment.
At each of Murphy’s five stores, there was some variation on live music, steaming trays of corned beef and cabbage, cakes of varying sizes, and Irish tschockes ranging from green wristbands and beads to teddy bears to Irish jewelry kits. A leprechaun—perhaps an employee of the month in costume—wandered the aisles, and staff dressed in green stocked shelves, sliced lunch meat, and occasionally danced with the leprechaun.
This was no ordinary day in the supermarket. But very few customers came through the automatic doors with a look of shock. For many, it’s an annual pilgrimage. It is for Monica and Danielle Jarrett. “I come here every year from Gloucester County,” said Danielle. This year, her two-year-old nephew, Cole, was the recipient of two balloon animals, some great Irish gear, cake, and a new appreciation for what happens when a Clare banjo player (Malone) and a Sligo guitarist (Brett) get together. “We come for the music, the balloons, and the nice people,” said Danielle who seemed to be one of the few people leaving without groceries.