Maura Krushinski and her husband, Tom Petrone, purchased the Irish Design Center 10 months ago as a retirement project, the same day their grandson was born. Maura, the founder of Pittsburgh Irish Festival, has long been Ireland’s unofficial ambassador to Oakland, and now she gets to spend her days helping others discover the treasure of the Emerald Isle. No matter when you stop in, the teapot will be waiting.
What are some common misconceptions people might have about a store that is all things Irish?
I don’t know what people think when they imagine an Irish store, sometimes I think they think we’re spilling shamrocks over here. Not that we don’t have them, but as you can see, there are many things in here that are the craft of the country. Their food is some of their best kept secrets. People were sending away for their favorite foods. They were having a hard time getting the foods of Ireland, and they really wanted their favorites because that’s where they grew up or because they had a sense of having been there and really fallen in love with the cuisine over there. So we have traditional black pudding, or blood pudding, minced pies, scones, white puddings, and boxties and butters and bangers… everything you need for a traditional Irish breakfast and then some.
How did you fall in love with Ireland?
Krushinski is very misleading. I’m Irish on both sides. My sister and I started the Pittsburgh Irish Festival 28 years ago, When you grow up in the heritage, it can be very casual. You know you’re Irish, you do irish things, you believe the stories, you eat the foods, you love the language, you love the music. Then, it takes hold in a different way. When we started the Festival the culture became alive for us in a much different way. All of the sudden it became a cause, a mission, a sense of purpose. We would perpetuate, we would create a place and a space, not just for the Irish in Pittsburgh, but the people who really hadn’t been introduced yet into the culture.
What’s a typical day like at the shop?
One of my favorite days was when a bunch of high school kids came in to get their $1.50 candy bars and then a university president came in to purchase some art. Two men were researching their surnames in the back, and a woman up front was waiting to talk to me about what to pack for her trip. We have a sense of community, a place where people can come. In the world of online shopping, it was a little risky to take on a brick and mortar business. But because of our belief in the product, and in the culture, and to create a community, we were very excited about this opportunity. People are excited to get back into the experience.
How do you feel about being a part of the Oakland neighborhood?
My husband grew up in Oakland. This is his hometown, this is his turf. And he’s as at home here as he would be anywhere in the world. He really has embraced the culture, even though his family teases him that he’s gone too green (He’s Italian). These little best kept secret parts of the neighborhood are still thriving here in Oakland. Certainly what’s visible are the universities and the hospitals and the corporations, but these little parts of the neighborhood really still have a life of their own. They still have the people who grew up here, who come back here to shop, whose grandparents still live here. Oakland is a treasure. It’s a true treasure. It’s a true multicultural treasure. And we are thrilled to be a part of it.