The Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin, Ireland, has been a city landmark since it was constructed in 1816 to carry pedestrians over the River Liffey. On this side of the pond, Dublin, Ohio, has a Ha'penny Bridge landmark of its own.

The Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin, Ireland, has been a city landmark since it was constructed in 1816 to carry pedestrians over the River Liffey. On this side of the pond, Dublin, Ohio, has a Ha'penny Bridge landmark of its own.

Ha'penny Bridge Imports of Ireland has been a retail fixture in the city for decades. The shop first opened in 1983 and has been owned since 1998 by Al and Anne Gleine, who moved it to a larger Historic Dublin location at 75 S. High St.

Though the Gleines aren't from the Emerald Isle, Dublin is their life -- whether it's Dublin, Ireland, or Dublin, Ohio. They proudly promote the suburb's identity year-round and understand why people gravitate toward their shop, even if they're not Irish and it's not St. Patrick's Day. "Everyone knows someone who is Irish or is part Irish," Mrs. Gleine says. "There's a little bit of green in my blood."

The shop's mix of Irish cultural items and keepsakes includes traditional woolen Irish Aran fisherman sweaters, coats, hats, scarves, blankets, Celtic christening bonnets, crosses and jewelry such as Celtic wedding bands.

"Of course we have Guinness items," says Mrs. Gleine. "We have a man cave in the shop." There's an Irish Christmas room, and she shares stories she's gathered on buying trips to Ireland about how folks there celebrate the season.

Ha'penny also features Dublin, Ohio, merchandise including T-shirts and mugs.

Displays often connect to special events such as Dublin's Independence Day festivities. The shop is now featuring Belleek fine parian china, handcrafted in Ireland and celebrating its 160th anniversary this year.

What sets Ha'penny apart? Nearly all of the store's merchandise comes from Ireland, Mrs. Gleine says. "We actually go over to Ireland and do our buying." And the shop is a member of the North American Celtic Trade Association, which has helped the Gleines build lasting relationships with vendors who travel to the U.S. for trade shows.

The couple married in 1984 -- the second marriage for both -- and blended their families to raise their children in Dublin. "All five graduated from Dublin Coffman High School," Mrs. Gleine says. Four call the city home with their own families, and one son lives in Avon Lake. They have 12 grandchildren.

Luck of the Irish

The Gleines have long held various leadership and volunteer roles throughout Dublin, including its business scene, community events and, when their children were young, school PTO and sports activities.

They originally jumped into the gift shop business in 1987 by operating the Irish Peddler in the former Stouffer's Dublin Hotel. He was a certified public accountant and she worked for an international company in a job whose demands sometimes made it difficult to balance work and family life. The new venture gave them more flexibility and the ability to work close to home.

They expanded with two more hotel gift shops in downtown Columbus and at Port Columbus International Airport. "And then we realized it's sort of like having three kids," Mrs. Gleine says. "When one of the shops needed something, we were at the other two. And we had our five kids. It was like having eight kids. We decided we just wanted to come back to Dublin."

As luck would have it, the couple got the opportunity to buy Ha'penny -- a move that allowed them to continue pursuing their passion and promoting the suburb's connection to its namesake. "We knew," Mrs. Gleine says, "that Dublin really had an ear for the Irish."

She says they believe the chain of events that led to the purchase was guided by their faith in God and their love of Irish heritage. The Gleines had planned to meet with Ha'penny's owners, Patricia Verhoff and Maureen Murphy, to talk about differentiating their merchandise, since both businesses competed for customers in the historic business district. Instead, they received a letter asking if they wanted to buy Ha'penny. They purchased it in 1998 and moved to their current location.

They affectionately call Ha'penny's historic home, with its worn charm and original wood floors, "the rolling hills of Ireland," Mrs. Gleine says. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, "It was built in the 1830s, and the upstairs was added in the 1880s."

Community Collaborators

In addition to Ha'penny's retail offerings, the Gleines work with a travel agency to offer tours to Ireland. They also host visitor tours at their shop.

Ha'penny has broad customer appeal. "We have Dublin people, but we also have central Ohio people and probably just as many out-of-towners and travelers," Mrs. Gleine says.

The whole Irish feel that Dublin touts, and the business and community promotions tied to it, help set the city apart, says Scott Dring, executive director of the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We work collaboratively on a lot of things," he says. "Ha'penny has really helped us build our brand as a community."

A collaboration this year for Dublin's St. Patrick's Day Celebration marked the U.S. debut of the Irish Fairy Door Co.'s family-friendly activity. Ha'penny was one of seven Historic Dublin shops that participated in the first Irish Fairy Doors of Dublin Trail, where visitors who found all seven magical doors got a T-shirt.

The shop also participates in the bureau's Irish Experience grant program, designed to create year-round events that attract visitors. Dring says Ha'penny has been awarded grants for Irish Shopping Saturdays and Third Thursdays, where local artists and Irish music and dancing are featured.

A community favorite, the "Best Legs in a Kilt" contest for the St. Patrick's Day Celebration, is sponsored by Ha'penny, with proceeds going to the Dublin Food Pantry. And the shop supports the Dublin Irish Festival each August, as part of its marketplace and Dub Crawl that kick off the celebration.

Helping Dublin's business community thrive has been a longtime endeavor for the Gleines. In addition to their involvement in the visitors bureau, they've been active in the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and many city-sponsored events. Mrs. Gleine was the first president of the Old Dublin Merchants (now the Historic Dublin Business Association).

She acknowledges she's "go, go, go. My feeling is if you're a member, then you need to be involved. Then you really learn more, you meet people. You enjoy it. I guess I'm a people person. I like to be around people."

If it's an Irish item a customer is looking for, they know the Gleines likely can help. "Because we've been doing this so long, people come to us. Recently a customer who had bought a cross here for her brother about 12 years ago came in. He had lost it, and for his birthday she wanted to get him another one just like it." At a recent Celtic trade show, the Gleines found a replacement.

Ha'penny makes an impression on new customers, too. "I instantly fell in love with the shop," says Stephanie James, who visited in March. The Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, police officer was visiting family in Marysville when she shopped at Ha'penny for the first time.

"We went back two more times," James says, noting there is Irish heritage in her large extended family. "My daughter's name is Ireland Kelley Rose."

James says Mr. Gleine noticed that they returned to the shop within days of their first visit, and he spent time sharing stories about Irish culture, the shop's merchandise and the building's historic significance.

"When he found out my daughter's name, he said, 'Well you can't get more Irish than that!' " James says with a laugh. "It was just a wonderful experience. He treated us like family. It wasn't like we were customers."

Debbie Briner is a freelance writer.

This story appears in the Spring 2016 issue of Dublin365.